NORFOLK, Va. - James River Federal Navigation Project engineers are ramping up efforts to minimize shoaling effects and improve safe navigation along Central Virginia's winding watershed.Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Cottrell Contracting Corp. commenced maintenance dredging Sunday in the 7.6-mile Dancing Point-Swann Point channel. It's part of a three-year, $30 million Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract awarded in March to the Chesapeake-based company.District officials say continuous dredging will occur at various James River points until Feb. 15, when work must stop to allow for spawning fish.Other locations to be dredged within this initial environmental window are: Jordan Point to Harrison Bar to Windmill Point (8.6 miles), Richmond Deepwater Terminal channel (1.1 miles), the Richmond Deepwater Terminal to Hopewell channel (16.1 miles) and ending back at Dancing Point-Swann Point channel for advance maintenance dredging aimed at reducing navigation restrictions."It's very ambitious, but this is the first time in many years we've had the funding to do this magnitude of work," said Victor Roberts, the Norfolk District project manager."We've averaged $4.8 million a year in dredging on the James River over the last decade. That's enough to do removal of critical shoaling, but funding shortages have prevented all we want to accomplish. We're trying to remove the draft restrictions. It may take a few years of this level of work to remove all draft restrictions."He said the district will issue a series of task orders through March 2022 under the parent Single Award Task Order Contract. They'll add up to about $10 million per year."There are places in the James River that have shoaled substantially and shoal very quickly," he added. "This IDIQ contract allows us to target those problem areas as needed over the next three years."The James River is authorized to a "maintained depth" of 25 feet, Roberts said. In the work slated to run until mid-February, Cottrell will dredge to 26 feet with a foot of allowable overdepth, which extends the period between dredging cycles.During the past decade, the challenge on the James River has been the rapid rate of shoaling in federal channels, said Whiting Chisman, the Virginia Pilot Association's vice president."It's been very difficult for the Corps to keep some of these channels at project depth," he added. "The Corps, through the annual James River Partnership meeting, has worked with industry on these issues and, through advocacy and awareness, will achieve tangible success. USACE has been very responsive and met the challenge so that the federal channels will return back to project depth this year."Roberts said dredged material from the Dancing Point-Swann Point and Jordan Point-Harrison Bar-Windmill Point areas will be transported by hydraulic pipeline with overboard placement.Norfolk District awarded a $261,000 contract to Hana Engineers & Consultants LLC, a Richmond-based minority-owned small business, which will collect and analyze sediment and water samples to determine dredged-material suitability at the Upper James placement sites. Sampling took place last week."That's not by coincidence, it's by coordination," Roberts said. "We can't dredge on the Upper James until we get concurrence from (the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality) on our testing of metal content within the dredged material."That permit requirement needs to be met by Oct. 1, he added.The James River federal navigation channel supports bulk carriers and cargo-barge traffic and serves as a vital link in the Virginia Port Authority's shipping-container mission from Hampton Roads to the Richmond Deepwater Terminal."It alleviates a lot of truck congestion on the interstate and highways," Roberts said.The James River is the longest in Virginia and up to 5 miles wide at certain points. It's lined with sweeping curves and affected by currents, wind and tides - which make draft restrictions necessary as it's difficult for boat pilots to maneuver."It's not a straight shot in or out of Richmond. It's 90 miles of meandering river," Roberts said. "With our maintenance dredging, we strive to balance environmental impacts with the needs of the maritime community. We make it manageable and try to provide safe and effective navigation for the mariners who use the river."Questions about this project can be referred to the USACE Norfolk District Public Affairs Office at 757-201-7606.