Eastern L.I. Sound close to gaining no discharge zone status

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A oil tanker docked at Iron Pier in Northville Saturday afternoon.

All Long Island Sound, from the East River out to Fishers Island, could soon join the Peconic Bay estuary as a federally designated no-discharge zone (NDZ), where it’s illegal for vessels of all sizes to dump sewage, treated or untreated, into the water.

Sewage dumped overboard can damage marine habitats. Regulators say even a small discharge over shellfish beds could make people sick from eating raw shellfish.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency tentatively approved the Sound’s status on Monday, April 11. That opened a 30-day public comment period. Mark Tedesco, director of the EPA’s Long Island Sound office in Stamford, Conn., recently said that, depending on the comments it receives, the EPA’s goal is to approve the NDZ by May 30.

The Peconic Bay system became a no-discharge zone in 2002 and the Connecticut side of the Sound received NDZ status in 2007. Peconic Bay and the Sound are among 28 waterways listed by the EPA as estuaries of “national significance.”

“As a result of sustained public-private advocacy, EPA is now moving steadily towards establishing an NDZ to restore and protect water quality and marine habitat in Long Island Sound,” said Congressman Tim Bishop, long an advocate for the designation. “Clean water and healthy marine ecosystems help preserve public health and also bolster our fishing and boating economy.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation petitioned the EPA to offer the special protection for the Sound. Mr. Bishop and other officials held a press gathering on the Sound shore at Wildwood State Park in Wading River last year to highlight the fact that it’s still legal to dump in the waters off the North Fork while treated sewage may not be released into the Sound off Connecticut, Nassau County or western Suffolk.

Local officials who have been working with state and federal agencies for several years to gain the NDZ status also hailed the EPA’s move.

“This is really great news,” said Southold Trustee Dave Bergen. “This supports our continued goal to improve water quality and support our valuable marine ecosystem. We hope that this final approval is obtained so that we can continue our efforts to improve water quality and support our valuable marine ecosystem.”

“This is a wonderful development,” said Bill Toedter, president of the North Fork Environmental Council. “This will prevent the dumping of all sewage, which is wonderful.”

Under state navigation law, NDZ violations can result in fines of up to $1,000 per offense.

The NDZ zone on the New York side of the Sound would cover 760 square miles. Based on 2008 vessel registrations, the EPA estimates that the Sound is home to about 11,700 recreational boats and another 500 small commercial vessels, including tugs, fishing boats and barges, which make up the bulk of the commercial traffic.

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