Editorial: There needs to be a permanent fix at the creek

07/28/2011 4:12 AM |

The need to allow summer dredging and/or find a permanent solution to a constantly shoaled-in Wading River Creek ­is an issue that deserves the attention it’s been getting from both Riverhead Town officials and, now, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer. A choked-off creek interferes with emergency responders’ ability to launch rescue boats into Long Island Sound in an area that has already seen one drowning and one boater rescue this summer.

The culprit responsible for what has become an all-but-unnavigable waterway is the narrow window ­— December to early January — during which state and federal agencies allow dredging. The dredging restrictions are imposed in an effort to protect winter flounder and piping plovers, which breed in the area. Attempts to extend the window have consistently failed, with the one exception being last July’s summer dredging.

In June, Mr. Schumer sent a letter to Col. John Boulé II, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ New York District, and Joseph Martens, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, in which he urged the Army Corps to allow the creek to be cleared for vessels as soon as possible.

Those pushing for action, including whomever has the Senator’s ear, must keep banging the drum. But the shoaling problems will continue — and people’s lives will be at risk — until local, state and federal governments finally get together to craft a plan that solves this problem permanently.

Such a plan could involve building a new jetty on the east side of the creek’s inlet to keep sand from being swept into the creek when those nor’easters blow. The state DEC frowns upon the construction of new jetties, but the agency must seriously consider relaxing its stance in this case. Or, if not a new jetty, perhaps officials can consider a more ambitious plan: closing the mouth of the creek and redirecting the waterway to the defunct Shoreham nuclear power plant property, then rehabilitating that property’s much-larger Sound access point.

Everything should be on the table, because the current system — paying more than $100,000 for dredging almost every December only to have winter storms reverse the work — is a ridiculous waste of time and taxpayer money. While the need to protect piping plovers and winter flounder is, in Mr. Schumer’s words, “understandable,” the possible cost — the loss of human life — is not.