Connecticut leaders oppose N.Y. lawsuit to block dredging site in eastern Long Island Sound

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredging vessel Currituck turns in the Thames River before docking at the Adm. Harold E. Shear State Pier in New London on June 5, 2015. New York State is suing the Environmental Protection Agency in an effort to block a new dredge disposal site from opening in Long Island Sound between the mouth of the Thames River and Fishers Island. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredging vessel Currituck turns in the Thames River before docking at the Adm. Harold E. Shear State Pier in New London on June 5, 2015. New York State is suing the Environmental Protection Agency in an effort to block a new dredge disposal site from opening in Long Island Sound between the mouth of the Thames River and Fishers Island. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Congressional and local leaders spoke out Friday against a lawsuit filed by New York State to block a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-designated dredging site in eastern Long Island Sound.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Attorney General George Jepsen released statements regarding the dredging site. Other leaders also came forward.

“Thousands of Connecticut workers and their families rely on the maritime economy for their livelihood,” said Scott Bates, chairman of the Connecticut Port Authority. “This ill-conceived and unfounded action is a direct assault on the working people of Connecticut.”

Dredging is a practice that has been used for decades to keep harbors and rivers open for shipping. The silt and material pulled up from area waterways is so voluminous, it can’t all be deposited on land, so some is disposed of in open water in the Sound.

Previous sites used for this purpose in Long Island Sound are full. The EPA endured a painstaking process to designate three new sites in the Sound for dredged material. One is a 1.3-square mile area in Connecticut waters between the mouth of the Thames River and Fishers Island, and replaces an adjacent dredge disposal site. The new site was established over the objections of New York State, but with the support of the entire Connecticut and Rhode Island congressional delegations. The other sites are in the central and western part of the Sound.

On Thursday, the New-York based Citizens Campaign for the Environment announced that the state had filed a lawsuit against the EPA opposing the plan to allow sediments to be dumped into the eastern site. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had threatened for more than a year to block the eastern disposal site.

The suit could have wide-ranging impact on Connecticut if New York prevails, because it would force the state to pay more to deposit dredged materials, said Evan Matthews, executive director of the Connecticut Port Authority. "If you force the marinas in eastern Connecticut to develop a new site, there's a lot of cost associated with that," he said. "If you don't dredge, then you're out of business."

Courtney said the opposition makes no sense. The disposal process at the eastern site is the same as the western disposal site that New York needs but didn't oppose, he said.

“New York’s overblown rhetoric characterizing the eastern Long Island Sound’s plan as ‘dumping’ is bizarre because it involves the same disposal process that New York agreed to for the central and western Long Island Sound open water plans over the past few years,” Courtney said.

Long Island Sound waterways contribute more than $9 billion annually to economic output of the Connecticut, Rhode Island and Long Island Sound region of New York and support more than 55,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' final Dredged Material Management Plan.  

Capt. Paul A. Whitescarver, commanding officer of the Naval Submarine Base, and the president of Electric Boat wrote letters to the EPA last summer supporting the site.

“A significant part of Electric Boat’s operations depends on the water-depth maintenance that dredging provides,” EB President Jeffrey S. Geiger wrote. EB needs deep-water access to bring in construction materials, receive submarines for maintenance and deliver newly completed submarines to the Navy, he said.

The EPA process for the disposal sites includes restrictions aimed at reducing the amount of material deposited in the Sound. The process requires material to be deposited on land, if possible, and mandates inspection of materials for contaminants.

"More than a decade of research and testing went into the decision for the location of the disposal site, and the science could not be clearer — open water disposal is safe and will not harm the wildlife or the water quality of the Long Island Sound," Malloy said in a prepared statement.

"Our maritime industry, recreational boaters, and many others derive and need harbors and ports that provide safe, reliable use, as we work to ensure environmental quality of Long Island Sound," Blumenthal and Murphy said in a joint statement.

Jepsen said he is reviewing the matter with the appropriate state officials and would evaluate what next steps to take in consultation with them.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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