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On the recreational side, 466boats visited Petaluma last year, which resulted in nearly

1,100 overnight stays, according to the Petaluma Yacht Club. Recreational boaters pumped another $3million into the local economy, said Harbormaster Barry Thorsson. Petaluma maintains a marina near Highway 101 and a port at the turning basin downtown.

"Commerce on the river is the No. 1 issue," he said. "As far as visiting boaters go, we have to warn them that they could get stuck in low tide."

Last summer, sailing publication Latitude 38 featured photos of sailboats stuck on the river.

Once the dredging project starts, it could take up to three months to complete, according to the Corps of Engineers. The corps uses a pipeline dredge, which is like a giant vacuum on a barge that sucks up silt and mud and deposits it into a spoils pit.

Petaluma has used Shollenberger Park, a wetland area just south of the marina, as a spoils site, Public Works Director Dan St. John said. The city recently received U.S. Fish and Wildlife approval to continue using the site for dredging spoils, he said.

"The stars are starting to line up for this project," he said. "We're really excited."

(You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 or matt.brown@pressdemocrat.com.)