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Ruling enabling dredging was the right one

You could be reading today that the future use of the U.S. Submarine Base in Groton was in question, so too Electric Boat’s plans to utilize its shipyard in that town for construction of a new generation of submarines. Cross Sound Ferry could be evaluating possible ticket increases.

Thankfully, none of that is the case due to the solid legal ruling by federal Judge Edward R. Korman in the Eastern District of New York.

Korman rejected efforts by the State of New York to block a disposal site for dredged materials, designated the Eastern Site, that has been selected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency between the mouth of the Thames River and the southwestern tip of Fishers Island.

If the judge had upheld New York’s challenge − leaving this area with no convenient disposal location − it would have meant transporting material dredged from harbors and navigational channels locally to approved sites between 35 and 60 miles away. The added expense could have changed calculations about the value of the submarine base and cost of doing business for EB and the ferry service.

Some of the marinas that dot our shoreline may have found it cost prohibitive to maintain the depths that are necessary for their successful operation.

In other words, a lawsuit over dredging may not be the spiciest of editorial topics, but this was a big deal.

In a court filing, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concluded that without the ability to dredge due to the lack of a disposal site, the capability to launch and build submarines in Groton “would be eliminated.”

"The national security implications were … stark,” wrote the judge in his decision. “The U.S. Navy Submarine Base is expected to generate 425,000 cubic yards of dredged material by 2025.”

Ultimately, it came down to the basics. In a process that dates back to another century, 1999 — that’s when EPA published a notice of intention to consider whether it was appropriate to designate new disposal sites in Long Island Sound — the federal agency did its job weighing environmental protection, business and recreational interests, the judge ruled.

“I simply conclude that, in designating the Eastern Site, EPA based its findings on substantial evidence, and followed the agency’s obligations under the law,” wrote Judge Korman.

Interestingly, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong used similar language in June 2019 when submitting a brief in support of the EPA’s decision.

“The record is abundantly clear,” said Tong at the time. “The selection of the Eastern Long Island Sound Disposal Site was done properly and lawfully and must proceed.”

We strongly urge New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to abide by the decision and file no further appeals. The case raises no profound constitutional questions. At issue was whether the EPA process and decision were flawed. Korman ruled conclusively they were not. Appellate courts would almost certainly respect his conclusions.

This was a classic case of New York moving the goalposts. It was an active participant and planner in the long process and did not question the EPA’s approach.

When New York complained about the eastern site being located in its state’s waters, the EPA in 2016 shrank the size of the planned disposal site from 2 square miles to 1.3. That shifted it entirely into Connecticut waters.

Yet, having got what it asked for, New York still challenged the EPA's decision, claiming it would harm the Sound and interfere with navigation.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, in applauding the judge's ruling, said, “it is time to finally exit the courthouse and instead implement the innovative, environmentally sound plan that both states helped craft.”

We agree.

No one is thrilled at the prospects of dumping dredged materials in the Sound. It is a necessity. When possible, under the EPA decision, the material will be used on land to help stem beach erosion. But that approach could not utilize all of it.

If high toxicity levels are found in the dredging spoils, it will not be dumped but treated as hazardous material.

“So long as there are practical limits to the beneficial uses of dredged material, there will be fierce disputes over where such material goes,” the judge recognized in his decision.

This fierce dispute goes in favor of Connecticut. It was the right call.

 

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 Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. 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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