A ferry passes the Orient Point lighthouse. File photo: Denise Civiletti

A federal appeals court today scuttled New York State’s hope of blocking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from establishing a new open water disposal site for dredged sediments in eastern Long Island Sound.

The plan, finalized in January 2016 renews the designation of four sites in the Long Island Sound as open water disposal sites, including a new permanent eastern site comprising two areas north of Greenport and Orient. The plan calls for continued open water dumping of some 53 million cubic yards of dredged sediments over the next 30 years. The sediments are dug from the bottoms of rivers, harbors and inlets to improve navigability.

Open-water dumping of dredged materials was set to end completely in the Long Island Sound, an estuary of national significance, in 2016. The EPA plan drew searing criticism from elected officials and environmental advocates alike — as well as 1,800 public comments in 2016, when hearings were held on Long Island.

New York State sued the EPA in federal district court in October 2017, arguing that the designations were inconsistent with the state’s coastal management program, adopted pursuant to the federal Coastal Zone Management Act, and inconsistent with the federal Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972. The Town of Southold and the County of Suffolk joined the state in the lawsuit. The district court ruled in favor of the federal agency in July 2020 and the state and Southold Town appealed.

Today the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision granting summary judgment to the EPA.

The eastern region site is off the coast of Southold Town and one of the dumping areas is very close to Fishers Island.

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said today he will confer with the town’s counsel in the litigation to review Southold’s options.

EPA’s plan is “inconsistent with the very charge of an agency that’s supposed to protect the environment not desecrate it,” Russell said.

Federal, state and local governments have spent millions of dollars to restore and protect the health of the estuary, he noted. Agencies are “working at cross purposes,” Russell said. “They need to start talking to each other.”

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said the decision is “painful and disappointing.”

“We’ve worked so hard to restore L.I. Sound,” Esposito said. “And unfortunately the EPA isn’t on board.”

“It’s notable that every New York municipality and stakeholder is against dredge dumping,” Esposito said. Connecticut, however, took the side of the EPA and joined the suit as a defendant-intervenor. “Eighty to ninety percent of the dredge material comes from Connecticut,” Esposito said.

The open water dumping may be easy and cheap, she said, but it’s also very damaging. “There are alternatives. “New York has a beneficial reuse policy,” she said.

“I wonder if Connecticut feels proud they just won a victory to pollute the L.I. Sound,” Esposito said. “It certainly is not a victory for the environment or the public.”

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