Dredged materials would continue to be dumped in four Long Island Sound open water disposal areas under a plan released yesterday by the Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency. The plan is intended as a framework for managing the projected 53 million cubic yards of materials that will be dredged from rivers, harbors and inlets in the Long Island Sound region over the next 30 years. The bulk of that dredged material would continue to be dumped in open water disposal sites.
But elected officials across the region have lined up to blast the federal agencies for continuing to rely on open water disposal of dredged materials, arguing that the dumping will have negative environmental impacts on an estuary of national significance that the federal and state governments have spent millions trying to protect and restore.
Officials also expressed outrage that the Army Corps would allow the public just one week to review the 1,300-plus page document prior to an Aug. 24 public hearing in Port Jefferson — and would close the comment period after just 30 days.
Last week, both Rep. Lee Zeldin and Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski called upon the Army Corps to extend the comment period and schedule additional public hearings.
“The 30 day comment period and holding only one public hearing a week after the plan is released is totally unacceptable,” Zeldin said today.
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine also complained that the federal agencies didn’t notify local government officials about the upcoming public hearing.
Romaine, State Sen. Ken LaValle, Assemblyman Steve Engelbright and others held a press conference at a Brookhaven town beach in Mount Sinai yesterday to decry the plan and the process.
The state has spent millions of dollars to protect the Sound, LaValle said.
“This year alone, we secured $5 million towards clean water studies and initiatives across Long Island. To dump dredge spoils from potentially contaminated sites would do irreparable harm to Long Island Sound,” he said.
Local officials argue the dredged materials will contain contaminants that will further degrade the water quality of the Sound and harm marine life.
Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said Southold has “vehemently opposed” the continuation of open water dumping for years because of concerns about its impact on water quality and its impact on finfish, lobsters and other aquatic species.
“We’ve spent how many millions to clean up the estuary? It seems counterintuitive to be dumping dredge spoil in it,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said.
“If the materials are completely clean and free of contaminants then the issue is what is the movement of the silt and sand from the site? How will it impact fish and shellfish?” Walter asked.
Kevin McAllister, founder of Defend H2O, agreed. He said the Army Corps and EPA take “the position that the material won’t disperse very far, that it will stay put where they’re placing it.” But McAllister says that’s a fallacy.
Still, he said, an overriding concern is the toxicity of the dredged materials.
“I would argue they would be very high in contaminants,” McAllister said of the dredged materials. The harbors where much of the materials would be taken from “function as sinks, receiving the river flow.” The urbanization alone of harbors
along the Connecticut coast is enough to raise concern about the toxicity of sediments on the harbor bottoms.
But acknowledging toxicity of dredged materials comes with a huge price tag, because then the materials would have to be disposed of accordingly — dewatered and trucked to hazardous waste landfills.
“I think they’re just cheaping this out,” McAllister said.
“The EPA should be embarrassed. I believe they’re providing the Army Corps cover with junk science or incomplete science,” he said.
The dredging projects are needed for safe navigation, according to the Army Corps document.
“Where to place and how to best use dredged material from harbors in and around the Sound has been an increasingly contentious issue,” the agency said.
Though most dredged material is “found suitable for open water placement in the Sound following extensive physical, chemical, and biological testing,” the document states, local groups and regulatory agencies have increased their efforts to encourage minimizing open water placement of dredged material in the L.I. Sound, particularly in New York waters,” it says.
The plan examines the need for dredging, past dredging history and dredged material placement, and current alternatives to open water disposal.
The four remaining open water disposal sites — prior to the 1980s there had been another 22 open water disposal sites in the Sound — are currently scheduled to be closed next year, under a 2015 EPA rule. The Army Corps says it expects the EPA to revisit that rule with respect to at least two of those sites after completion of the final dredged materials management plan.
“I support phasing out all open water disposal of dredge waste in the Long Island Sound,” Zeldin said today. “This report opens the door to phasing out the practice, but should do more to speed up this process.”
The public hearing on the plan starts at 6 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 24 at the Port Jefferson Village Center, 101-A East Broadway, Port Jefferson NY 11777.