Sen. Schumer pushes feds on summer dredging at Wading River Creek

06/24/2011 2:25 PM |

Riverhead Town now has a powerful ally in its push to get Wading River Creek dredged this summer, as U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-Brooklyn) is now calling for the creek to be dredged immediately.

Mr. Schumer said constant shoaling in the creek is limiting the ability of emergency service crews to access the Long Island Sound from the boat ramp there, because the water is too shallow.

“This impassability is a major impediment for first responders in the Town of Riverhead, preventing access to the Long Island Sound in a timely fashion,” Mr. Schumer said in a press release issued Friday.

The creek dredging traditionally runs into conflicts with environmental regulations aimed at protecting piping plover nesting and winter flounder, and as a result, the dredging can only be done in December, long before the summer boating season. But that’s also the start of harsh Northeast winters, and powerful storms tend to reverse the dredging work.

The creek was recently used by emergency services in a search and rescue operation for a Bellport man who tried to rescue his stepson who was swimming in the Long Island Sound near the creek. The man was later found dead, though the boy survived.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said about eight boats launched from the creek boat ramp for the search, but several of them couldn’t get back in because of the shoaling, and instead had to use the boat launch facility at the former Shoreham Nuclear Plant site to the weest. In addition, Mr. Walter said, the Riverhead Fire Department’s rescue boat was damaged trying to get through the creek.

In the past year, the Wading River Fire District has responded to numerous emergencies where the ability to navigate the creek and access the Sound using emergency watercraft was essential, the senator said.

Mr. Schumer has sent a letter of Col. John Boulé II, Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’s New York District, and Joseph Martens, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), in which he urged the Army Corps to expedite the review of the dredging permit, and to work with DEC and the town to get the creek dredged, the senator said.

“The navigability of Wading River Creek is essential to Wading River Fire District’s ability to respond in a timely fashion to emergency calls from area residents and individuals using the waters and beach in the Wading River area,”  Mr. Schumer wrote. “During the past year, the Wading River Fire District has responded to numerous emergencies where the ability to navigate the creek, utilize the boat ramp to launch emergency watercraft, and access the beach by boat were paramount to its ability to protect the life, health and safety of the inhabitants in the area.”

The senator’s letter later added, “While I understand the importance of protecting critical marine habitats, it is also imperative that your agencies work together with local governments to insure that public safety on the water is not compromised.”

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