In the middle of one of the most brutally cold winters in recent memory, dredge crews has diligently gone down to Mattituck day and night for more than a month to wrench sand from the bottom of the Mattituck Inlet, in an extensive dredging and remediation project that has been more than a decade in the making.
They were initially expected to finish working on Feb. 28, but they hit a snag as they were wrapping up work last week: they had dug the channel to the prescribed depth of 11 feet, but they hadn’t found enough sand there to shore up the beach to the east of the inlet.
Congressman Tim Bishop, who has been closely involved with the federally funded project, said Tuesday that his office has been working with the Army Corps of Engineers and the state DEC for emergency permits to dredge the inlet three feet deeper and continue work until Friday, March 7, when they hope to have pumped 100,000 cubic yards of sand from the depths onto the scoured out shoreline of Bailie Beach to the east.
The project had already received a special permit from the DEC to dredge after Jan. 15, the date waterways are usually closed to dredging to protect spawning winter flounder.
“I implored the Corps to get an extension and to dredge the inlet deeper, and they have done both,” said Mr. Bishop. “They had simply gotten all the material out.”
Mr. Bishop said that, as of Monday, the crew had pumped more than 80,000 cubic yards of sand onto the beach, and he expected them to have the full amount on the shore by March 7.
This season’s dredging is an unusual one for the Army Corps, which usually focuses simply on improving navigation. Under Section 111 of the 1967 Rivers and Harbors Act, the Army Corps can be forced to repair environmental damage done by structures it has installed. The Army Corps placed the jetties at the mouth of Mattituck Inlet in 1906, which disrupted the littoral drift of sand down the beach, causing sand to pile up on Breakwater Beach to the west of the inlet, while Baile Beach to the east has been scoured away by storms and tides, without sand traveling from the west to replenish it.
The dredging was initially slated to be done in the winter of 2011-12, but was put on hold when funds were reallocated for an emergency dredging of the inlet to Lake Montauk that year.
Doris and Ron McGreevy, who live near the inlet and have been very involved in the health of Bailie Beach, have been closely watching the progress of the dredging.
Mr. McGreevy said he noticed several weeks ago that there didn’t seem to be as much sand coming out of the inlet as he had expected and he asked Army Corps representatives why that was.
“They misjudged the amount of sand they could get out,” he said. “Now they’re going down to 15 to 16 feet. It’s been a fight for 15 years and it’ll be a fight until they leave. It’s not fine.”
For the dozen or son fishing boats that still call Mattituck Inlet their home port, the dredging snag isn’t much of an issue, said Cindy Kaminsky, who, with her husband Jim runs the Tide II, the biggest fishing boat in the inlet. No boats can enter or leave the inlet while the dredging is going on, she said, but that’s just fine.
“We can’t get out. We can’t see anything. We’ve got our engine torn apart,” she said. “This is a quiet time for us.”
Ms. Kaminsky said after such a cold winter, her crew’s early-season fishing expeditions for porgies don’t really begin until late April. Even the conch boats harbored in the inlet won’t start heading out into the Sound until the weather warms up.
“The weather this year has been horrendous,” she said. “It’s not the wind, but the cold. Jim has heard on the radio that there have been a lot of equipment problems [on the dredge].”
Mr. McGreevy also said he’d heard that dredge workers had been beset by problems ranging from broken parts on the dredge to high winds.
A representative of Port Jefferson-based Village Dock, Inc., which has been contracted by the Army Corps to do the work, said Monday that she believed work was going well and the company would have more to report early next week.
The last time Mattituck Inlet was dredged, about 15 years ago, Mr. McGreevy said only 13,000 cubic yards of sand were put on Bailie Beach, and it quickly washed further east down the shore over the course of the next year. This time, he said, the beach is already looking much better.
“It should last a while,” he said. “They’re supposed to come back in nine to ten years, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.”
Doris McGreevy, his wife, was more measured in her view.
“We’re working with the congressman, insisting that he hold their [the Army Corps] feet to the fire and do what they promised,” she said. “The weather conditions have been very difficult for the people working.”
Ms. Kaminsky said she was heartened to hear the inlet will be dredged deeper. The Tide II draws six feet of water, and she hopes the deeper dredging will mean it will be much longer before the inlet becomes unnavigable again.
“It got very bad. We had boats that drew four feet of water that hit the bottom going in and out,” she said. “It was difficult for two boats to pass each other in the inlet. That was bad too.”
Ms. Kaminsky said part of the problem the last time the inlet was dredged was that about a third of the money allocated for the project was diverted to another project in Patchogue. This time, she believes, things will be different.
“We got a half-hearted job,” she said of the last dredging. “This time, we hope they’ll do it right, but we won’t know how it looks until the boats go out in April and start to do soundings.”