Seven days after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released more than 1,200 pages of documentation of their plan for what to do with dredged material in Long Island Sound, Corps representatives were roundly criticized by Long Islanders Monday night in one of two public hearings planned on Long Island.
The public hearing, held at Port Jefferson’s Village Center, began with an hour-long presentation by the researchers who prepared the documents — leading some in the audience to question aloud whether it was going to be a public hearing or a public lecture.
“We were told the presentation would be 25 minutes, not an hour,” said Citizens Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito, who had held a press conference with other environmentalists outside the center before the public hearing.
Army Corps New England District Chief of Navigation Mark Habel told the crowd in attendance that just 6.3 percent of the material dredged from Connecticut’s rivers is contaminated and deemed unsuitable for open water dumping.
He said that, contrary to reports in the Long Island media, “unsuitable material would never be placed in open water in the Long Island Sound.”
He said that 28.8 percent of the dredged material would be sand and 65.9 percent would be “suitable fine material,” mostly silt, which could also be dumped in the open Sound.
The four sites used by the Army Corps include two in the eastern Long Island Sound that are of particular concern to East Enders — Cornfield Shoals, just over 3 miles south of Old Saybrook, Conn., and the New London disposal site, just over 3 miles south of Groton, Conn.
He added that the Army Corps examined many alternative placement methods, including using the sand to feed beaches or using the silt to create marshes, or building islands, but many of those options “have been looked at over and over again.”
Stacy Pala, a biologist from the Battelle Memorial Institute who prepared the Progammatic Environmental Impact Statement for the project, said her office did analysis on 95 dredging projects and 145 alternative disposal sites, a total of 14,155 pairings to see if the projects were a good match for one another.
While her work did not take the cost of the different methods into account when determining suitability, she did include prospective costs for informational purposes.
From the Army Corps perspective, said Mr. Habel, he has a federal obligation to chose the least costly method that is both feasible and environmentally responsible.
He said if a non-federal sponsor agreed to pay the extra cost of better alternative options, the Army Corps would consider changing the projects.
Mr. Habel said the public can help the Army Corps to identify alternative sites, and work with state and local agencies on helping to find and fund alternative options.
That didn’t sit well with Long Islanders.
Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski, of Cutchogue, held up last week’s North Fork newspaper, which had a picture of porpoises frolicking in the Long Island Sound on the front cover. He said the porpoises were not far from the Cornfield Shoals site.
“We’re very concerned about this proposal,” he said of the Suffolk County Legislature. “If you don’t do the dumping, you don’t have to do extensive studies on the impact of the dumping. It’s the lazy option.”
“I feel like when it comes to the Long Island Sound, we have a tale of two water bodies. One is a national treasure to protect and preserve, the other is a convenient dumping ground,” said County Executive Steve Bellone. “This disjointed policy extends to agencies like the EPA which on one hand is pushing localities throughout Suffolk County to spend millions to upgrade sewage treatment plants in order to reduce discharge into the Sound and on the other hand would allow additional decades of the muck from the bottom of industrial harbors to be placed in that same water body. Such a policy fails the most basic tests of public sense.”
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine said he believed the reason for the lengthy introduction by the Army Corps was the public was given just seven days “to digest 1,300 pages of highly technical data.”
“We’ve been dumping in the Sound for decades,” he said. “The reason we do that is it’s cheap.”
Mr. Romaine said he didn’t see anything in the reports on how the dumping would affect the biology of Long Island Sound.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said Southold’s economy depends on a healthy Sound, and the Long Island Sound Futures Fund has spent $13 million trying to keep it clean.
He said he would submit more detailed technical comments when his staff has time to read the documents, but one proposal in the report, to ‘dewater’ two million cubic yards of dredge spoil on 450 acres of farmland in Mattituck, struck him as odd.
“I’m unaware of 450 acres that are suitable for this,” he said.
Southold Town Trustee David Bergen said he’s seen studies that show the warm water surrounding the Millstone nuclear power plant in Connecticut is moved by the strong currents in the eastern Sound into Southold Town waters. He said if the water travels to Southold from Connecticut, it’s likely that some finer silt will travel there too.
“Even though the sites are physically located in Connecticut, they will affect the New York side,” he said.
Port Jefferson lobsterman John German said he’s not opposed to dredging, but he’s “100 percent opposed to dumping in the Long Island Sound.”
“Put it on upland sites, on the beaches,” he said. “Let people lay in it and see if they like it, if it’s perfectly safe as you say it is.”
Ms. Esposito chastised the Army Corps for taking 10 years to create a plan “that uses cost as a limiting factor.”
“We feel this plan turns the Long Island Sound into a landfill for the next 30 years,” she said.
North Fork Environmental Council President Bill Toedter agreed.
“Do you remember something called the Clean Water Act?” he asked members of the Army Corps. He added that the point of the Dredged Materials Management Plan was supposed to be to examine alternative sites.
“The least costly alternatives are often not the best,” he said.
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst agreed.
“We’re going to have to take it back out again,” she said of the dredge spoils. “A permanent solution should be found. What was once environmentally acceptable does not lead to what’s acceptable in the long-term.”
Mike Foley, who has lived for decades in Riverhead’s Soundfront neighborhood of Reeves Park, said he used to see dolphins in the Sound when he was a kid, but hadn’t seen them again until the past two years.
He and many others in attendance said they’ve recently seen the Sound just beginning to recover from decades of environmental degradation.
“When you’re taking this stuff out of the water, you’re not sampling all of it,” he said. “Everything that comes out of the water should stay out of the water.”
Sid Bail of the Wading River Civic Association agreed.
“Based on what I’ve seen so far, you need a new plan,” he said.
Concerned Citizens of Montauk Executive Director Jeremy Samuelson said it took him two-and-a-half hours to get to the hearing from Montauk. He said he would have had to have read 285 pages a day for the past week to fully digest the plan.
He urged the Army Corps to extend the public comment period to a full 120 days and to hold a hearing in the Town of Southold, which would be directly impacted by the project.
He called the plan “little more than doubling down” on old practices.
“You have made a rather critical environmental decision based on budgetary constraints,” he said. “You should go find a bigger budget. Ten years ago, lawsuits were filed over this. I assure you, if you proceed down this path, that is what you will find again.”
Col. David Caldwell, the Commander of the Army Corps’ New York District, said the Army Corps does plan to have another hearing on Long Island in mid-September and has decided to extend the public comment period from Sept. 18 to Oct. 16 due to the public demand for more time to comment.
A second public hearing is scheduled for tonight, Aug. 25 at 6 p.m. at the Marriott Long Island in Uniondale, and hearings are also scheduled in Stamford, Conn. on Aug. 26 and New London, Conn. on Aug. 27.
The plan documents are online here at links on the bottom right hand side of the page labled “LIS DMMP” and “PEIS.”