Corps' dredging plan for Sound is sound

The most environmentally sensitive alternative to protect Long Island Sound would be not dredging any material from its harbors, coves and navigation channels. That, however, is not a viable choice, not if residents of Connecticut and New York want to enjoy the recreational and economic opportunities the magnificent waterway provides.

The challenge, then, is to produce a plan for dredging that best balances environmental protection and engineering needs. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has done just that in producing a draft plan that considers land-based alternatives for using dredged material and seeks to diffuse the impact of material that must be dumped to the bottom of the Sound.

Dredging is not an attention-grabbing policy topic, but it sure is important. The “Draft Dredged Material Management Plan” and accompanying environmental impact statement estimate that 52.7 million cubic yards of silt and sand must be removed to keep marine navigation channels in the Sound open. Without this work, an economic analysis concludes that the region will see a 15 percent drop in navigation-dependent economic activity and miss the opportunity to better utilize Connecticut’s deep-water ports.

All of which is why the draft is attracting widespread support. On Monday, Town of Groton Mayor Rita Schmidt, Waterford First Selectman Dan Steward and Stonington First Selectman George Crouse joined Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., at the Avery Point Campus of the University of Connecticut in a show of support for the dredging plan. Also in attendance were state Reps. Devin R. Carney of the 23rd District and Aundre Bumgardner of the 41st, both Republicans.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, in a Sept. 6 guest commentary published by The Day, wrote that “revitalizing our ports … will be contingent on a continued effort to maintain our channels and harbors properly.” Because the dredging plan would do that, “It deserves support and quick approval,” wrote the congressman.

The state’s entire Washington delegation — two senators and five congressmen — sent a letter in support of the plan to the Army Corps. Also backing the dredging blueprint is Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Rob Klee. He said the plan would provide “practical, cost-effective, and environmentally acceptable management alterantives … (to) meet the needs of our ports and harbors.”

None of this means the plan will be accepted without criticism or controversy.

Many environmental activists had hoped for more reuse of dredged materials — including marsh restoration and rebuilding and re-nourishing beaches — and little or no dumping of dredged soils into the Sound. Instead, the plan calls for only moderate reuse, with the focus remaining on traditional open-water dumping.

The Army Corps concluded that because much of the material is too fine, has pollutants or is laden with salt water, it is not suitable for land-based uses. Trying to convert more of the spoils for reuse would prove “prohibitively expensive and logistically difficult,” according to Corps’ engineers.

To minimize any adverse results from dumping, the Army Corps plan points to 10 potential disposal sites that can be matched with 60 dredging projects. The intent is to match disposal locations with individual dredging projects to find the options that are the least costly and best environmentally. Locally, the Cornfield Shoals disposal site off Old Saybrook and the New London disposal site near Fishers Island would close by the end of next year.

An extensive review and hearing process continues, including a hearing Thursday at the Omni New Haven Hotel, 155 Temple St, New Haven. The hearings begin at 6 p.m. with registration at 5:30.

Connecticut launched its new Port Authority on July 1. The authority’s mission is to reverse a decline in freighter utilization of the deep-water ports in New London, New Haven and Bridgeport. It cannot succeed without a plan that properly maintains Connecticut channels and harbors. According to the draft management plan, economic activities utilizing the Sound contribute more than $9 billion in economic output, supporting 55,000 jobs.

While adjustments to the proposal will be part of the process, the draft plan protects the Sound as an economic asset without exploiting it environmentally. 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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