A major thoroughfare for boat traffic at the southern end of Long Beach Island will likely be unsafe to use through at least the first half of summer.

Deemed too severe for safe passage of boats, the buildup of sand in Little Egg Inlet has forced the state Department of Environmental Protection to take action and fast-track a dredging project to clear away dangerous shoals on the ocean side.

"When you're approaching as a boater, and you're negotiating choppy surf and you're going up and down, there's a good likelihood of getting caught up in one of the shoals as you're working your way through there," DEP spokesman Larry Hajna told New Jersey 101.5.

The department is currently in the process of designing the project, which would remove an estimated 1 million to 1.5 million cubic yards of sand. The goal is to start seeking bids by mid-April and get the project rolling in early July. It would take a few weeks to complete.

In early March, the U.S. Coast Guard pulled all buoys from the inlet that were marking a safe route. Boaters are now being warned that if they use the inlet, they're doing so at their own risk.

Due to wave action and storms over time, some areas of the channel are at six feet below mean sea level. This project will create a channel that is 25 feet below, Hajna said.

"The state is fully funding this project," he added. "We're going to find the money. It's a high priority."

The inlet, which provides connections to Little Egg Harbor, Great Bay and the Intracoastal Waterway, has never been dredged.

Sand gathered during the project will be used to replenish beaches on portions of southern LBI that sustained erosion as the result of storms over the past several months.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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