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N.Y. State files suit against EPA over dredge spoil dumping in L.I. Sound

The state's lawsuit against the EPA says the agency, among other things, failed to evaluate the impacts of the dump-site designation on navigation, specifically citing ferry traffic in the eastern LI Sound. Photo: Denise Civiletti

New York State yesterday filed a federal lawsuit challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s designation of a third permanent open water disposal site in eastern Long Island Sound.

The new site could accept tens of millions of cubic yards of dredged sediments. The L.I. Sound, an estuary of national significance, already has two permanent disposal sites, in the western and central regions.

The state argues that EPA’s December 2016 designation of the new site, which lies within 2.3 nautical miles of Fishers Island, violated the federal Ocean Dumping and the Coastal Zone Management acts and asks the court to vacate the agency’s decision designating the new site.

“The designation … was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law,” according to the complaint filed by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

“We will continue to do everything in our power to protect New York’s environment, and with the EPA’s unfathomable and destructive decision to turn the eastern Long Island Sound into a dumping ground – now is the time for action,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a press release announcing the lawsuit. He called the designation “a major threat to a significant commercial and recreational resource.”

Local, county and state elected officials, Rep. Lee Zeldin and environmental advocates alike spoke out in opposition to the designation of the eastern site when it was proposed in 2015 as well as the continued use of the existing disposal sites in the western and central regions of the Sound.

“Placing dredge spoils into the Sound is inconsistent with New York’s Coastal Resources Management Plan,” Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said today. “I am happy that New York State is asserting its authority under that plan to stop this ill-conceived idea,” he said.

As soon as the EPA announced its final rule, New York officials notified the agency it would challenge it.

Citizens Campaign for the Environment applauded the governor and attorney general for following through with the lawsuit.

“We are ecstatic that New York State is once again standing up to protect this treasured asset,” CCE executive director Adrienne Esposito said. “Long Island Sound is an ecological gem that should not to be used as a dumping ground for dredged material.”

According to the complaint filed yesterday, the EPA: “unreasonably inflated” dredged material disposal needs for the area; violated its own site-designation regulations; erroneously evaluated the impacts of the designation on existing commercial navigation; unreasonably concluded that the designation would have no significant adverse impacts on human health or the environment; and erroneously determined that the designation is “consistent to the maximum extent practicable” with New York’s federally-approved coastal management program.

“Disposing dredged materials in an estuary can present a significant risk of environmental harm,” according to the complaint. “Materials dredged from in and around rivers and harbors adjoining sites of historic or current commercial or industrial operations often contain toxic substances injurious to the marine environment and humans.”

The protections of the federal Ocean Dumping Act were extended to the L.I. Sound in 1980. The sound was designated an estuary of national significance in 1988.

“The Long Island Sound is a vital economic and ecological treasure that needs to be protected – not undermined by the U.S. EPA’s outdated dredging management decisions,” NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos, one of the named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said in a statement.

“Governor Cuomo has made it clear that New York State will not tolerate the federal government gutting its commitment and denying its responsibility for reducing or eliminating the disposal of dredge spoils in the open waters of this irreplaceable ecosystem,” Seggos said.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website. Email Denise.