Wildlife concerns may delay dredging in Wading River

by |
04/29/2010 12:00 AM |

The shallow Wading River Creek by the decommissioned Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant. Riverhead officials are losing confidence the state will grant them the permits they need to dredge the creek in time for boating season, due to wildlife concerns. Winter storms battered the area, reversing dredging done in December.

Even though extreme weather conditions have reversed December dredging efforts at Wading River Creek, Riverhead Town officials say it is unlikely the DEC will grant an emergency permit to allow the area to be re-nourished with sand.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said the granting of necessary permits “doesn’t look favorable” due to spawning winter flounder in the creek and because piping plover season has begun.

Mr. Walter said until the work gets done, homeowners along the beachfront area are vulnerable in an emergency, because the Wading River Fire Department can’t launch rescue boats during low tide.

“We don’t have any access in Wading River Creek,” he said. “This is not a recreational boat ramp. This is access to the Long Island Sound in case of an emergency.”

Jim Loscalzo, a Wading River resident who has lived on Creek Road for 26 years, said dredging before early summer is a waste of time and money. There are about 35 homes on Creek Road and 14 homes have year round residents, he said.

“The dredging should occur at the beginning of the summer because the sand would harden up for the winter,” Mr. Loscalzo said. “So when the winter storms hit, they wouldn’t really affect us that much.”

The problem is not new, residents said. Jetties installed at the Shoreham nuclear power plant nearly 30 years ago exacerbated erosion by starving the beach nearby of sand. That sand moves into the creek and contributes to the serious road flooding problem.

Mr. Loscalzo said last month’s storm flushed out all of the sand that was placed along the beach in front of the homes and filled up the creek.

Wading River Civic Association first vice president Sid Bail said during the construction of the power plant, the mouth of the creek was closed and a new channel was created. It changed the course of the creek eastward, but Mother Nature continues to take it westward.

After the jetties were installed at the power plant, the plant’s owner agreed to regularly dredge sand caught by the jetties and use it to nourish the beach. But because of seasonal limitations set by the DEC, the dredging — a method of moving the sand gathered in the creek and putting it back on the eroded shore — can’t be timed to stop winter flooding and erosion problems.

“They did a rather good job with the dredging in December,” Mr. Bail said. “Except for the timing.”

Currently, the DEC won’t allow dredging to occur after April due to the populations of piping plovers, winter flounder and seals in the area.

“One of the major time restrictions for dredging in the area is due to these species,” Assemblyman Marc Alessi (D-Shoreham) said, adding that he has been trying since 2008 to get the DEC to reevaluate the area and reexamine the current time frames for dredging at the waterway.

“I’m hopeful that if we all get together to identify the problems we can come up with long-term solutions,” he said.

State and local officials are trying to work with the Army Corps of Engineers and the DEC to establish a new time window for dredging.

Jill Lewis, Riverhead Town deputy supervisor, said she’s collaborating efforts with Mr. Alessi and Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) to create a long-term fix, as well as secure any available federal assistance.

“I’m hopeful that we can get something done,” Ms. Lewis said. “But we’re working with such a narrow window.”

According to a 2008 letter Mr. Alessi received from DEC regional director Peter Scully, the undoing of dredging efforts within months of completion is “not the result of restricted dredge windows, but the characteristics of the water body, which appears to be ill-suited for dependable, year-round boat launching activities.”

Mr. Loscalzo said residents are concerned because they have no protection against erosion or flooding and hurricane season is around the corner.

“During major storms, this road gets two to three feet high in water,” he said. “This whole thing becomes a lake. Now because of that, if there’s ever an emergency they can’t get down here to help anybody.”

Mr. Loscalzo said he’d like to see the road raised or have a berm constructed on the south side of the road, as well as bulkheading the beach and constructing a small jetty on the east side of the creek.

“No one down here is looking for money because their property has been damaged,” Mr. Loscalzo said. “We’re looking to solve the problem.”

[email protected]