Wading River Creek has caused nothing but problems since a narrow and impractical window for dredging was instituted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to protect the piping plover population.
Due to the seemingly permanent sand bar at the mouth of the creek and the ever-extending shoal on the eastern bank, the site’s boat launch area has become all but useless for an average trailer-sized motor boat — and the current caused by a variable creek bed has proved deadly all too often.
What was once a great asset to the local community and law enforcement agencies to launch their boats is now a nightmare to navigate and a public safety hazard.
The tragic events of Labor Day weekend, when two young men who were fishing in the creek were swept into the Long Island Sound to drown, serves as a reminder of the continual neglect of the creek and the ongoing need to solve the many problems associated with the boat launch facility.
There is much confusion as to the facility’s purpose. A town parking lot provides much-needed parking for trailered boats, but a newer county lot for car-top boats is often used by kayakers, fishermen and even swimmers who cannot park in the town public beach lot farther east on Creek Road without a permit. On countless occasions, I have witnessed boat traffic waiting for and navigating around swimmers at the mouth of the creek while unpredictable currents sweep swimmers and boaters in various directions.
Regardless of the facility’s intended purpose, the lack of dredging is solely responsible for the impassible sand bar, which causes boat damage and renders the facility unusable at almost all tide levels. The strong current also poses great risk to boaters and bathers alike.
The uneven creek bed, curving structure and shallow mouth cause what seem like white-water rapids at tide change and a current so strong it at times prevents motor boat advancement in the opposite direction. Thousands of gallons pouring out of a six-foot-deep creek is then met by a two-foot clearance over the sand bar — enough to sweep people off their feet and send boats crashing into the rocks along the western bank, or strand them on the bar itself.
Dredging the creek every spring or summer is the solution to these problems. A dredged creek would have even and predictable flow and current. A deep mouth with no visible sand bar would not lure fishermen or bathers to attempt to walk across the creek itself if unable to swim, and a uniform boat channel would allow both passenger boats and emergency boats to launch in the creek.
The most telling sign of the disastrous ruin the creek has become is that the Wading River Fire Department boat used in the search for the missing men on Labor Day was launched from the power plant and not the town’s own boat ramp.
A similar drowning prompted the summer dredging of the creek in 2011, so what has changed since then? Have the town and state given up on the safety of the facility?
A dredged creek is necessary for a safe waterfront, and it is time that we place the needs of the town’s residents above those of supposed wildlife populations that have prevented spring and summer dredging in the past.
The author is a lifelong Baiting Hollow resident.