By Donna Newman
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is threatening to sue.
State lawmakers have joined forces across the aisle to issue a demand to both the federal government and the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the dumping of dredged sludge in the Long Island Sound at two existing sites.
At Sunken Meadow State Park Aug. 4, New York office-holders from multiple levels of government presented a united front. Gov. Cuomo (D) warned U.S. President Barack Obama (D) and the EPA that a plan to create a third disposal site poses a “major” threat to the ecologically vital habitat and blocks progress to end open-water dumping in Long Island’s waters. He and Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) wrote letters to Obama, EPA Administrator Regina McCarthy and EPA Regional Administrator H. Curtis Spalding about their opposition.
The dredging of Connecticut harbors and rivers, meant to deepen waterways to allow ships clear passage, produces sludge that is being open dumped in the Long Island Sound, according to Englebright’s office.
Local environmentalists are also concerned with the practice being used long-term.
“We are grateful for the strong support of Governor Cuomo and our local state legislators in opposing this ill-conceived plan and putting the federal government on notice that the Long Island Sound is off limits for the dumping of dredge spoils,” George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, a North Shore group that works for clean water in Setauket and Port Jefferson harbors, said in a statement.
Should the federal agency continue its plan to allow dumping of dredge spoils in eastern Long Island Sound, New York State will pursue legal action against the EPA, Cuomo said.
In 2005, the EPA struck an accord with the governors of New York and Connecticut to reduce or limit the disposal of dredged material in the Sound by examining alternative placement practices. Two sites— Western Long Island Sound and Central Long Island Sound — were designated on Long Island to be used for that purpose.
On April 27, the EPA proposed the designation of a dredged material disposal site in the Eastern region of Long Island Sound, a third dumping location that would continue open-water dumping of dredge waste in the Eastern Long Island Sound for as long as 30 years. The two sites open now are set to close Dec. 23.
Englebright doesn’t see the latest proposal as a step in the right direction — according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, approximately 22.6 million cubic yards of dredging will be done over the next 30 years.
“The draft appears to be the same open water dredge-dumping plan we have seen before,” he said. “Federal, state and local governments have spent billions of taxpayer dollars to clean up the Long Island Sound and significant progress has been made … continued dredge dumping will make the task of cleaning up the sound so much more difficult.”
The EPA has maintained that dredging is a necessary part of keeping the sound passable for ships.
“Dredging is needed to ensure safe navigation in the sound,” EPA spokesman John Martin said in an email. “The EPA has not made a final decision, but we believe the proposal strikes an appropriate balance between the need for dredging to maintain safe and efficient navigation and our desired outcome to restore and protect Long Island Sound.”
He referred to the Sound as a nationally significant estuary that has seen the return of dolphins and humpback whales during the past year, thanks to cleanup efforts.
New York State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) agreed that the state has made significant investments to repair decades of damage.
“Real progress is being made, which makes the EPA’s recent proposal to expand the number of dredged material sites in the sound even more difficult to comprehend,” he said. “I fully support using whatever resources the state has at its disposal to fight the EPA’s plan and protect the long-term health of the sound so that it will continue to be an environmental and economic asset for future generations of Long Islanders.”
In his letter to the agency and the White House, Cuomo stressed his intentions to take action to protect Long Island’s waters if the EPA fails to comply with lawmakers’ requests.
“If the EPA ignores New York’s objections and finalizes its rule to permanently designate an open water disposal site in eastern Long Island Sound,” Cuomo said, “ I will take all necessary steps to challenge the rule and stop it from being implemented.”
Victoria Espinoza, Desirée Keegan and Alex Petroski contributed reporting.