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Environmentalists, lawmakers blast plan to dump in LI Sound

Bill Toeder

Local environmentalists and lawmakers say they believe the U.S. Army of Corps of Engineers’ latest plan for disposing dredged materials won’t protect the Long Island Sound.

About 50 people attended a public hearing Wednesday night at Hotel Indigo in Riverhead to discuss the proposed Dredged Material Management Plan, known as DMMP, and Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, called PEIS.

Copies of each plan can be found on the Corps website.

Both drafts are related to a 2005 mandate by New York and Connecticut aimed at phasing out the method of dumping dredged materials into the Long Island Sound. Local dredge dumping sites include: Cornfield Shoals, north of Greenport; and the New London site, just west of Fishers Island.

Bill Toedter, president of the North Fork Environmental Council, and nearly 30 local environmental group leaders signed a letter addressed to Gov. Andrew Cuomo stating they oppose the proposal because it calls for disposing between 30 to 50 million cubic yards of dredge spoils into the Sound over the next 30 years.

“Tonight, I’m speechless,” Mr. Toeder said. “Ten years later, we’re in the exact same place we were before.”

“We’re fighting for clean water,” he continued, “for improved health of the Long Island Sound because the animals and fish which live around it, as well as jobs and industries, depend on clean water.”

Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who submitted a letter signed by all 18 representatives of the Suffolk County Legislature opposing the plan, described the latest draft as a “lazy and cheap way out.”

“This is my fourth time addressing the Army Corps on this issue in the last three years and nothing seems to have changed much, except the venue,” he said. “You’ve got centuries of waste from New England’s Industrial Age that have been dumped into the estuaries. When all that’s dispersed into Long Island Sound, I don’t think you’ve considered the actual impact it’s going to have on the environment.”

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who chairs the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, read a letter signed by 20 other Assembly members that oppose the management plan.

“The draft DMMP appears to be along the lines of the same open water dumping plan that we have seen in the past,” he said. “It’s just the newest version of the old ‘out of sight; out of mind’ method of waste disposal that’s been with us since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.”

Long Island Sound press conference
Congressman Lee Zeldin, left, at Wednesday’s press conference in Riverhead. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Earlier in the day, Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) held a press conference at Reeves Beach in Riverhead with local environmentalists to also state his opposition to the plan. He said that while some dredge spoil can be recycled for other uses, others may be toxic.

Corps program manager Steven Wolf said at Wednesday’s meeting that dredged materials must be signed off by the Environmental Protection Agency and the state before they’re disposed of in open waters. If the material is deemed toxic, he said a different disposal method is used.

“In general, we’re not dredging historically relict sediments,” he said. “Materials coming in are of a more recent nature rather than what came out during the Industrial Revolution.”

Corps staffers that worked on the latest draft proposal said the plan includes a scoring system to determine alternatives methods and locations to dispose dredged materials such as constructing marshlands.

Southold Town principal planner Mark Terry said he believes more communication is needed between the Corps and local municipalities to determine such alternatives.

“The document considers using 450 acres of Mattituck agricultural fields as a ‘potentially feasible’ area to de-water 2,085,000 cubic yards of dredge spoil,” he said. “That plan is not feasible. To have that in this document is a huge disconnect with the Town of Southold.”

When reached for comment after the meeting, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said in an email that he has raised his objections to the proposed alternative method at a previous public hearing and noted the report does not outline “any logistical requirements such a barging and trucking.”

“Any thorough EIS would need to evaluate impacts to groundwater, impacts to prime agricultural soils, traffic impacts, etc. when considering such a proposal,” he said. “The EIS that is subject to these hearings does none of that. To casually mention an ‘alternative,’ then not even carefully consider impacts or discuss the specifics is, at best, irresponsible.”

Mark Habel of the special studies section at the Corps said input from town officials will determine future locations.

“If you say that’s not available, it’s not available,” he told Mr. Terry at the meeting. “It’s as simple as that.”

The Corps is accepting public comment on the drafts until Oct. 16 by mail to: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District (Attn: LIS DMMP/PEIS Program Manager Meghan Quinn) 696 Virginia Road, Concord, MA 01742-2751.

[email protected]

Photo: Bill Toeder at Wednesday’s public hearing. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)