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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

East Beach in Port Jefferson is on the Long Island Sound. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Giselle Barkley

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency got more than it bargained for at a North Shore library earlier this month when concerned residents showed up to oppose a plan that would allow dumping of dredge spoils into the Long Island Sound for the next 30 years.

EPA officials had finalized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed open water dredging plan in January, and had set the public hearing at the Port Jefferson Free Library to get input on possible rules and regulations for the 30-year plan, which calls for the Army Corps of Engineers to dump upward of 50 cubic yards of dredge material from Connecticut waterways into the Long Island Sound.

The group has practices this type of dumping for years, but has recently faced opposition from environmental advocates.

About 60 community members attended the EPA’s hearing on the Long Island Sound Dredged Material Management Plan.

“We’re not offering … specifics in the rulemaking because we’re not going to approve a plan that pollutes the Long Island Sound,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “We’ve been having public hearings for 10 years and all of the public input has been unanimously ignored.”

The EPA has said it is open to finding alternative ways to dispose of the spoils, and invited communities to partner with that agency and with the Army Corps to line up resources to explore those other methods and do the investigation.

New York State demanded that the Army Corps reevaluate its disposal process in 2005, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has yet to make a public statement regarding the new dredging proposal.

“The Long Island Sound should be protected from adverse activities, rather than have this activity go forward,” Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said.

Englebright, the head of the state Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation, said spoils could instead be used to replenish eroded beaches: “We’re going to need to defend our coastlines and we’re going to need a lot of sediment to do that.”

Esposito had similar ideas at a press conference in February. She suggested the spoils could be used for wetlands and beach restoration and for capping landfills.

County officials like Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) were disappointed in the EPA’s support of the plan. “We’ve invested so much [money] in improving the health of the Sound,” she said. “To have them make a decision that flies in the face of all that investment … is very discouraging.”

In a previous interview, Stephen Perkins, a member of the EPA’s dredging team, said the agency tests the material before dumping it into the Sound. Highly toxic spoils are not dumped.

But Hoffman said spoils jeopardize the water’s health.

“It’s an estuary of significance, it’s an estuary that’s endangered,” Hahn said.

Adrienne Esposito speaks against a plan to dump dredge spoils in the Sound as county Legislators Sarah Anker, Kara Hahn and Al Krupski look on. Photo by Giselle Barkley

It’s been about six months and North Shore leaders are still fighting against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposal to continue dumping dredge spoils into the Long Island Sound.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) stood alongside fellow county Legislators Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) and Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) on Tuesday at the William H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge to voice their opposition to the plan and ask Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New York Secretary of State Cesar Perales to reject the proposal. George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force and Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, were also among the leaders who voiced their opposition to the plan.

The Army Corps has dumped dredge spoils into waterways leading to the Sound for decades. Its final proposal, known as the Long Island Sound Dredged Material Management Plan, was completed on Jan. 11 and suggested dumping 30 to 50 million cubic yards of dredge material cleared out from Connecticut waterways over the course of another 30 years.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has supported the Army Corps’ proposal. Stephen Perkins, a member of the EPA’s dredging team, said the spoils are tested before being dumped to ensure they meet certain safety standards.

But critics say the state can reject the plan under the federal Clean Water Act.

Dredge dumping has caused toxic chemicals to be dispersed throughout the Sound over the years, affecting the ecosystem and many water-dwelling species, including fish and lobsters.

“If this was private industry doing this, I don’t think they’d go very far,” Krupski said. “They’d probably end up in jail.”

Over the past 11 years, the local government has spent $7 million to address environmental issues in the Sound, a fragile body of water, according to Anker. Some of that went toward creating a Long Island Sound study.

According to Esposito, New York State rejected a similar plan that the Army Corps proposed in 2005, and ordered that group and the EPA to slowly reduce the amount of dredge spoils being dumped into the Sound. She called for the plan to go back to the drawing board.

“We’ve committed so much resources, money, time and energy to protecting this water body,” Hahn said. “And then to just dump potential harmful and toxic waste spoils into our waters is a darn shame.”

Anker agreed, saying that the Sound creates upward of $36 billion of economic value on the Island.

Instead of dumping dredge spoils into the Long Island Sound, Esposito suggested using it to restore wetlands, rebuild beaches and cap landfills, among other methods of disposal.

“The Sound is dying and what they’re trying to do now is bury it in dredge spoil,” Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said at the press conference.

The local leaders also criticized the EPA for supporting the Army Corps.

“On one hand, they are advancing a nitrogen-reduction plan,” Esposito said. “And on the other, they’re turning a blind eye to the disposal of the large quantities of dredge materials which cause significant nitrogen loading into the Sound.”

A public hearing on the dredging plan will be held on Tuesday, March 1, at the Port Jefferson Free Library, at the corner of Thompson and East Main streets. That event runs from 5 to 7 p.m., with registration for public speakers starting at 4:30 p.m.

Coastal geologist Aram Terchunian. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The considerations for the Asharoken beach and dune restorations continue.

Coastal geologist Aram Terchunian from First Coastal Corp. consultants delivered a presentation to the board of trustees on Feb. 3, and trustees said they still agreed to go forward with an $84.5 million plan that would transform Asharoken’s beaches and dunes.

Several months ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers presented the board with five different alternatives to combat the flooding and erosion problems the village has encountered, specifically those that arose after Hurricane Sandy.

Trustees said they preferred the plan known as alternative (1), which uses sand to fill the coastline along Asharoken Beach. The plan includes filling the beach with a particular type of offshore grain that is compatible with the native beach sand. There will also be a dune made on the west end of the beach.

The initial volume of beach fill is 600,000 cubic yards with 80,000 cubic yards of nourishment every three years, Terchunian said. The total estimated cost for construction alone of this plan is just more than $21 million, Terchunian said.

He said that the construction cost is shared roughly 70 percent by the federal government, 20 percent by the state and 10 percent by local government. But the maintenance-costs share changes to only 50 percent federal, 35 percent state and 15 percent local.

The coastal geologist also said the sand alternative plan is the least expensive to construct, but the most expensive to maintain over time due to the amount of annual sand needed.

He said the Army Corps “did their homework” with the proposals they presented to the board, and he particularly praised the plan for alternative (1) because of the type of offshore sand the Corps planned to use.

Asharoken Trustee Mel Ettinger. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Asharoken Trustee Mel Ettinger. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

“Looking at these sediments, the Corps made an astute observation,” Terchunian said. “Designing the project with a slightly heavier grain size than exists on beach, from offshore, is an excellent match [to the sand type currently on the beach].”

He said the grain size is “critically important” to the success and endurance of this plan.

In a phone interview on Friday, Asharoken Mayor Greg Letica said the board has concerns with the groin components in the other alternatives presented by the Army Corps.

“We are also concerned about the fact that there is not guaranteed long-term replenishment money which could leave the groins exposed, become a possible eyesore and cause more erosion downstream,” he said.

The main concern of residents and the trustees alike throughout this entire process has been the issue of public access. It is required by the federal government for public access points to be made if government funds are used to help finance the project. Currently, the public is only afforded access of a private beach property below the waterline.

However, if this proposal goes through, the public would have access above the mean high waterline to private properties on the Long Island Sound side.

Letica asked Terchunian if there is anyway Asharoken could get around the additional required public access points. Terchunian said that the Army Corps is not allowed to have any flexibility with the projects they propose, and the U.S. Congress said, “If they spend the money in this location, these are the requirements.”

Local politicians such as Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) and Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) have written to the Army Corps headquarters asking for the public access points on private property to be reconsidered.

Terchunian has years of experience working with the Army Corps, most notably with the Village of Westhampton Beach for dune restoration.

The need for this project was first introduced by Letica in 2012, in a letter to federal legislators urging them to find funding to protect Asharoken Avenue, which he had called “exposed,” after Sandy and multiple nor’easters continued to reduce the size of the dunes protecting the shore.

The village had until yesterday, Feb. 10, to respond initially to the Army Corps. Letica said the board intends to keep the community completely in the loop as it comes closer to making a decision on whether or not they go forward with a plan.

“We want the board to not make these decisions unilaterally,” he said, adding that the trustees will look into forums like public hearings or public surveys to gauge residents’ desires.

Town and state officials oppose plans to continue dumping dredge waste into the Long Island Sound. File photo

Town and state officials gathered at Cedar Beach on Monday in opposition to the plan by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to continue dumping dredge waste into the Long Island Sound.

The organizations were dumping dredge spoils into the Connecticut River, which spills into the Sound. According to Sen. Ken LaValle spokesman Greg Blower, town and state officials are not sure what chemicals or sediments were disposed of in the river, especially with the variety of manufacturing facilities around that area.

Ten years ago, the organizations were asked to create a plan that would propose an alternative area where they could dump the waste. Officials including Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) received the plan at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, according to Anthony Graves, the town’s chief environmental analyst.

Originally, the officials only had seven days to make public comment on the 1,300-page plan, but after Romaine brought this into question, the date was altered, allowing people to make their comments until Oct. 5.

Graves said the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA were told in 2005 to create this report, which didn’t address the concerns of town and state officials. According to Bonner, those organizations recommended continuing to deposit the waste in the Sound.

Bonner said, “We have better technology now and we know dredge spoils can be repurposed for capping landfills.”

While there are alternative dumping sites, such as abandoned mines and landfills, Romaine said the organizations opted for a cheaper way.

“The only reason why the Army Corps of Engineers is recommending it is because it’s the cheapest method,” Romaine said. “Shame on them.”

Romaine said the spoils have compromised marine life, including a decline in the fish and shellfish population. He added that the spoils are most heavily contributing to the lobster die-off in the water. Even though the dumping of the waste is from Connecticut, Romaine said, “water bodies like the Sound don’t respect state boundary lines.”

According to Graves, around $1.7 million was spent cleaning the Sound. LaValle said these efforts were a waste of money because the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA continued to dump dredge waste in the water during the cleanup.

“The two measures really don’t make sense and we have spent 10 years and all that money,” LaValle said. “[It] shows lack of common sense. I think the only thing it did was keep some researchers occupied for 10 years.”

There are two local public hearings, one on Monday, Aug. 24, in Port Jefferson’s Village Center and the other on Tuesday, Aug. 25, at the Long Island Marriott in Uniondale. There will also be hearings in Connecticut.

Registration is required to attend the meetings, and comments can be forwarded no later than Oct. 5.

“We live on an island,” Romaine said. “Many of the waterways on our island are already impacted. We don’t need any more impaired waterways. We need to start improving the Long Island Sound.”

Asharoken Village beach. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Asharoken Village residents will soon have to decide if they want support a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-backed proposal to replenish the community’s eroding beaches.

The $30 million idea involves building the beach back up with more sand to fight erosion. The issue concerning many residents is that in order for the plan to go into effect, public access must be granted to private properties that have new sand put down on their beaches.

Currently, the public is only afforded access of a private beach property below the water line. However, if the village board approves this proposal, the public would have access above the mean high water line to certain private properties.

Some trustees on the village board have said they will not approve a plan that residents don’t agree with.
According to Village Trustee Mel Ettinger, five public access points need to be established for this pitch to go through. He said currently the public can access private beaches from two different areas, and are not trespassing as long as they are below the mean high water line.

Since the Army Corps of Engineers is largely funding the project, public access is a must in order for the proposal to go through. The Army Corps would pay for 89.5 percent of the $30 million costs to help fight beach erosion, and the village would have to pay 10.5 percent, or about $3 million dollars.

“The board of trustees and the mayor are doing our due diligence in exploring the issues associated with putting sand on the beaches and making sure residents are being heard,” Ettinger said in a recent phone interview.

At the end of June, the Army Corps presented the board with five different versions of the proposal, all varying in costs and methods.

On June 30, the Army Corps met with the village board and recommended a plan that consists of a berm and a dune system with groins on the northwestern end of the project area. This area includes the properties on the side of Asharoken Avenue that touches the Long Island Sound.

Berms are wedges of sand that face the sea. They are composed of sand from offshore, and help indicate that the beach has been gaining sand in recent weeks or months. Dunes are hills of sand that have either accumulated over time or have been bulldozed in. Artificial dunes help to hold an eroding shoreline in place.

“Groins in combination with new sand would reduce the erosional effect of existing groins and reduce the frequency of re-nourishments needed,” James D’Ambrosio, public affairs spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers said.

According to D’Ambrosio, if the residents of Asharoken do not approve this idea, then the Hurricane Sandy funds that were allocated this project would be used elsewhere.

Ettinger said once the board decides on a plan, it is required to write a letter to the Army Corps requesting which plan they want to go ahead with. Then, assuming the Army Corps approves the decision, the board will prepare a presentation to the village residents that explain all aspects of what it would mean to move forward with the plan.

“The best decision is to come up with a plan that the residents are in agreement with,” Mayor Greg Letica said in a recent phone interview.

Letica also mentioned that there are other options to ensure the safety and longevity of the beaches in Asharoken while still maintaining private access. If residents themselves entirely footed the bill, then there would be no need for the Army Corps financial assistance, and thus no obligation to make private beaches public.

“We need to protect the beaches, I understand the residents that don’t want to give access to their private property, but I think this is something we need to do,” Christine Peterson, an Asharoken resident said in a recent interview. “It’s not like we’re opening up a new beach and expect many new visitors to come and use it.”