TIM GANNON PHOTO
Wading River creek is the only access point in the area for boats to enter the Long Island Sound in case of an emergency.
Wading River Creek is on track to get a rare July dredging this week, Riverhead officials said.
The Town Board last Thursday declared a public emergency regarding the conditions at Wading River Creek, which has filled in with sand since it was last dredged in December.
The board also authorized the expenditure of $100,000 to dredge the creek, with 75 percent of that money coming from the federal government, 12.5 percent, or $12,500, coming from the state, and the remaining 12.5 percent coming from the town.
Town officials say they believe the project is very close to receiving state and federal approvals and may even begin this week.
“This is a big deal,” said Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter.
“As you know,” Deputy Supervisor Jill Lewis told the Town Board last week, “from the March storms with the nor’easter, the Wading River Creek had shoaled in. Actually, today, if you went down there at low tide, you could walk across it.
“The Wading River Fire Department had come to us around April telling us it was a concern…because should there be any kind of accident [at sea], they would have to go into Shoreham where the power plant is, get through those gates and then go out their jetty, and they lose a lot of time having to do so.”
Ms. Lewis said she’s been working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and the state Department of Environmental Conservation to get a modification to the town’s dredging permit that would allow the July dredging.
Ms. Lewis said the DEC has asked the town for some additional information, which it is providing.
“We’re fairly close. If we can get them the information…they said we would have the permit within 24 hours,” she said, indicating that all three agencies usually grant permits together.
DEC spokesman Bill Fonda confirmed that account, and said the draft permit will give the town until July 31 to finish the dredging.
July dredging is rare. Usually, due to restrictions pertaining to piping plover nesting areas and winter flounder, the town is required to dredge the creek in December. Often, storms follow and leave the creek shoaled in again before boating season arrives.
“This is the first time to my knowledge that it’s ever been done in July,” Mr. Walter said.
“DEC has not authorized a dredging event at Wading River Creek during the month of July before, to staff’s recent knowledge, although we did allow the town to dredge during the second half of August 2005,” Mr. Fonda said.
“The reason for the unusual July event we are contemplating is a combination of this year’s stormy weather, the worsening navigational safety situation at the creek and the department’s need to protect piping plovers and the spawning of sharply declining winter flounder. The town dredged the creek during the authorized period in December 2009, but the nor’easter storms we had in March moved a very large quantity of material back into the just-dredged channel, severely limiting passage.”
Mr. Walter said Ms. Lewis and Congressman Tim Bishop’s office were extremely helpful.
“We have to acknowledge Congressman Bishop’s office,” Mr. Walter said. “They worked tirelessly to get this done.”
The town will likely have just 14 days from the date it receives the permit to complete the dredging, Ms. Lewis said.