Looking back, the Army Corps of Engineers project to dredge the Menemsha channel was troubled from the start. At the outset, Chilmark and Aquinnah, the two towns that share the channel and pond, disagreed over whether the work was needed at all. Chilmark selectmen and the town’s harbor master fretted that deepening the channel would open up Menemsha Pond to more boat traffic and overnight anchorage in the summer months. This in turn, they contended, would trigger the need for more enforcement in the harbor and also set up possible conflicts with oyster growers who have their shellfish farms in the pond.

On the other side of the bight, Aquinnah and tribal officials favored the dredging work, arguing it would benefit mariners and potentially the shellfish population as well. Additionally, Aquinnah was looking forward to using sand taken from the channel to rebuild Lobsterville Beach, which was hit hard when the remnants of Hurricane Sandy blew across the Vineyard in October of 2012.

In the end the Army Corps had the money — more than two million dollars made available through a federal relief fund after Sandy — and also had the final say in the matter.

The dredging project was a go. Chilmark and Aquinnah put their differences behind them. Cooperation was in the air.

The work was set to begin early last fall but was delayed after the Ohio contractor hired for the job became stalled bringing equipment up from the South, this time because of another hurricane named Joaquin.

Finally work began in November. Fine, clean sand sucked from the channel bottom was piped a mile and a half away to Lobsterville, and the project appeared to be running smoothly.

Except that it wasn’t.

It was well known from the beginning that the project needed to meet a January 31 deadline for completion. The date marks the start of the winter flounder season and anyone familiar with marine projects on the Vineyard knows that dredging projects must stop by then. In Edgartown a similar dredging project at the Eel Pond and Fuller street beach, carried out by town-owned equipment, was completed in timely fashion.

In Menemsha, only about a quarter of the work had been done when the project was halted last week. It has since come to light that the West Basin parking lot was damaged during what dredging was done and will need repairs.

Now the project cannot resume again until mid-October, after the busy summer season and after the fishing derby, leaving many logistical complications, including the question of where to store the dredging pipes for the next several months.

The project manager for the Army Corps told the Gazette this week the dredging contractor has until Feb. 15 to clean up the site and relocate its equipment. He expected the Army Corps to decide in the next few weeks whether to terminate its contract with the contractor or invite the company back to begin the work again in the fall.

No doubt the delays will substantially increase the price tag for a project that has been star-crossed from the beginning.

But the Army Corps seems able to find plenty of money when it decides a project is important. Consider the recently announced plan by the Corps to spend north of eighteen million dollars to dig up south-facing beaches on the Island in order to remove long-buried old ordnance dating to the World War II era. The fact that the aging munitions have not caused anyone injury in at least half a century seems not to have factored in the Army Corps’ funding decision.

It’s hard not to think about how that considerable sum of money could be far better spent if it was put toward other Island projects, starting with solving the problem of protecting the Island’s fragile saltwater ponds from nitrogen overload or addressing other areas threatened by coastal erosion.

If asked, Islanders could probably come up with an excellent list of priorities for federal financial assistance.

Sadly, that’s not how the Army Corps works.