Maritime economy needs clear waterway channels

Long Island Sound, and our 332 miles of Connecticut coastline, is a critical natural, recreational, and economic resource for our region and the nation. Over the next 30 years, an estimated 53 million cubic yards of sediment must be removed from waterways and channels along the Sound in order to ensure the continued viability of the region’s maritime-dependent activities — including military and federal facilities that are critical to our local economy. Unfortunately, the lack of a clear framework for needed dredging maintenance, and the disposal of dredged materials in the region, as well as ongoing uncertainty over the future use of open water placement, has had a negative impact on private marinas, ports, towns and even Naval Submarine Base New London.

That is why I strongly support the approval of the Army Corps’ Dredged Materials Management Plan, or DMMP. It provides a comprehensive management framework of environmentally responsible and cost-effective disposal solutions for the varying types of dredged materials — outlining plans for a myriad of federal dredging projects in the Long Island Sound region to address the needs of small businesses, marinas, and others whose livelihood depends on dredging.

The plan identifies environmentally sound alternatives for the handling of dredging materials, such as beach nourishment and wetlands restoration. I have seen firsthand the value of this kind of beneficial use, and was recently involved in facilitating a dredging project that helped to restore a beach in Madison, Conn., using dredged sand. Like many along the Sound, I would like to see the Army Corps pursue beneficial use alternatives like this whenever feasible.

However, as the DMMP validates, only a small portion of dredged materials can be used on land beneficially. That is why there is an urgent need for open-water disposal options currently in use in Connecticut waters, which the DMMP retains as a needed, appropriate and environmentally suitable option for fine-grained materials that cannot be placed on land.

Access to a range of dredged material placement options is absolutely vital to the economy of my district and state – and that of the entire Long Island Sound region. According to the DMMP, economic activities that utilize Long Island Sound waterways contribute more than $9 billion annually in economic output and support more than 55,000 jobs in the region. For eastern Connecticut, this represents real jobs and economic activity from commercial shipping, shipbuilding and ship repair, commercial fishing, recreational boating and ferry-dependent tourism.

Federal and military facilities including Naval Submarine Base New London, the United States Coast Guard Academy, as well as the premier submarine builder Electric Boat, also depend on cost-effective placement options. If this dredging strategy and the continued access it provides to responsible open-water placement options does not move forward, it is estimated that the region will see a 15 percent drop in navigation-dependent economic activity revenue in the next two decades, and significant – and perhaps even prohibitive – increases in costs for the private, commercial and federal stakeholders.

With the establishment of Connecticut’s Port Authority this year, our state is poised for resurgence in our maritime industry. Since 2006, imports at deep-water ports in Bridgeport, New Haven, and New London have decreased by 80 percent. To boost this sector, I worked with state, federal and local stakeholders to secure critical new federal funding to increase the capacity of the freight line that runs to the Port of New London to support this focus on our state’s maritime economy.

Realizing the goal of revitalizing our ports, however, will be contingent on a continued effort to maintain our channels and harbors properly. The DMMP, which pairs Connecticut’s 35-year practice of responsible open-water storage with sustainable on-land solutions for suitable dredged materials, provides the Long Island Sound region with a balanced approach for future waterway maintenance projects. It deserves support and quick approval.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, a Democrat, serves Connecticut's Second District.

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