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Groton - Whether two dredge disposal sites in eastern Long Island Sound will continue to be used, new sites will be designated or open-water disposal will be phased out will be determined by an analysis the Environmental Protection Agency expects to complete by 2016.
The two sites, one located about 3.6 miles south of New London and the other in the Cornfield Shoals area near Old Saybrook, are slated to close in December 2016 unless the EPA redesignates them as the areas where silt, sand and other materials that accumulate in channels, harbors and marinas can be dumped. Over the next 2½ decades, an estimated 13.5 million cubic yards of material will need to be dug out of eastern Long Island Sound to keep navigation areas open, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
On Wednesday, the EPA hosted a public meeting to gather input on issues it should consider as it begins the analysis, known as a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. The meeting, at the University of Connecticut's Avery Point campus, was the first of several opportunities the public will have to comment on the issue.
While the meeting drew about three dozen attendees, only six people spoke. Five were marine business representatives who stressed the importance of convenient disposal sites for dredge spoils.
"If dredge spoils are prohibited in eastern Long Island Sound, these businesses will be severely impacted," said Adam Wronowski, vice president of the New London-based Cross Sound Ferry, Thames Dredge and Dock and three related marine businesses.
Forcing dredge companies to haul spoils to sites in the central or western Sound would more than double the cost, he said, and have a greater environmental impact due to the diesel fuel emissions from towing it on barges.
Christian McGugan, owner of Gwenmor Marine Contracting and Gwenmor Marina in Mystic, Jeff Kateley of Connecticut Dredge Corp. in Deep River, Abbie Coderre, manager of Saybrook Point Marina and William Gash, executive director of the Connecticut Maritime Coalition, all urged the EPA not to eliminate dredge disposal sites from the eastern Sound.
"What we're dredging is what's coming down the Connecticut River," said Coderre. "The environmental impact isn't any more than what's coming down the river. It's nothing that isn't already there."
But Louis Burch, Connecticut program coordinator for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said an alternative to open water dredge disposal is overdue. He referred to a 1992 law that he said was adopted "with the intent of stopping dumping and phasing it out over time."
The EPA, he said, should develop a practical alternative to open water dumping before undertaking the study. Eastern Long Island Sound, he said, is the most biologically diverse part of the estuary and is also busy with recreational and commercial fishing, boating and commerce that are all negatively affected by diminished water quality and potential contaminants from dredge spoils, he said.
"Open water disposal is a seemingly cheap, quick fix which is creating long-lasting consequences in eastern Long Island Sound," he said.
For information on the EPA study of eastern Long Island Sound dredge sites, visit: http://www.epa.gov/region1/eco/lisdreg/index.html.