BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The Wading River Creek
Getting permission to have Wading River Creek dredged in the summer last year was considered a rarity. But Riverhead Town Board members are now lobbying federal and state officials to allow the creek to be dredged for a second consecutive summer, and they have declared an emergency condition at the badly shoaled creek.
“My office is determined to get that Wading River Creek opened again,” Supervisor Sean Walter said at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting, where the board adopted a budget for the dredging project and also declared the creek shoaling and beach erosion in Wading River to be public emergencies.
He said he is reaching out to U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) for help in finding a permanent solution to the problem.
“What happened this past weekend is a huge indication of why we need to have this done,” Mr. Walter said, referring to the multi-agency search for a swimmer who disappeared in Long Island Sound near the creek and was later found to have drowned.
“We launched eight boats out of the Wading River Creek on that emergency, five of them couldn’t get back in and the Riverhead Fire Department’s boat was damaged trying to get back in.”
Police Chief David Hegermiller said Tuesday that the boat was damaged when it hit bottom trying to navigate the creek. He said the boats that couldn’t get back into the creek had to return to shore via the LIPA channel at the former Shoreham nuclear plant property.
Mr. Walter said, “This is truly an emergency situation, and the federal government needs to help us figure out how we can keep this waterway open so that we can launch boats in an emergency.”
The 35-year-old Bellport man who drowned while trying to rescue his stepson Friday night was swimming in the Sound just east of the creek when he disappeared.
Environmental regulations regarding winter flounder and nesting piping plovers traditionally limit the period for dredging the creek to December. Officials say that by the time boating and swimming season arrives, the creek has filled with sand again.
Last year the town got special permission to dredge in the off-months because of severe storms in March; this year it hopes to get similar approval because of storms in December.
The Town Board is also considering undertaking a study of winter flounder mating season in the creek to see if the related dredging restriction is warranted.
Board members said federal officials have even suggested abandoning the town boat launching facility at the creek and instead putting a public boat ramp at the LIPA facility.
In the past, the town has discussed building a longer jetty on the creek’s east side but has said the cost of that option, and the chances of its getting state and federal approval, make it unlikely to happen.