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    Friday, February 03, 2023

    Speakers at New London public hearing favor Army Corps dredging plan

    New London — Speakers at a public hearing Thursday almost unanimously endorsed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' proposed 30-year dredging plan for Long Island Sound, whether they were owners of small marinas who depend on removal of sand and silt to keep their boat slips accessible or congressional representatives interested in protecting major marine assets in the region, including the Naval Submarine Base, U.S. Coast Guard Academy and Electric Boat.

    "We every day fight the siltation and reduction of berths on our properties," said Douglas Domenie, a representative of the Brewer Yacht Group, which owns more than two dozen marinas in New England and New York. "Dredging is imperative to our continued success."

    "My marina has to dredge every two to three years, otherwise we could cease to be a marina," said Abbie McAllister, manager of the Saybrook Point Marina.

    The draft plan, created over the last 10 years, examines alternatives for handling the 52.7 million cubic yards of material that will need to be dredged from the Connecticut and New York sides of the Sound.

    The plan calls for using dredge materials on land — for projects like capping landfills and shoring beaches when suitable — but also states that the continued use of open water disposal of silt and sand in various sites throughout the sound is a necessary, environmentally safe and financially feasible option.

    The plan has met with some opposition in New York, particularly from environmental groups concerned about dumping toxic materials into the sound, but Rob Klee, commissioner of Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, had testified in favor of the plan at a public hearing Wednesday in Stamford.

    "Our experience over the past 35 years and all data that has been generated, shows open water disposal to be an environmentally acceptable practice," Klee said in a written statement. "The evidence clearly shows that through careful oversight and management, open water placement has not diminished water quality, natural resources, aquatic life, or public health in Connecticut or neighboring states."

    Connecticut requires placement of cleaner material on top of sediment if it contains concentrations of certain materials, according to Klee.  

    "If you think about it logically you can see that through open water placement we are only moving sediments already in the marine environment to a location where they are more properly managed," Klee said.  

    Officials noted Connecticut's maritime industries pump some $7 billion to $9 billion a year into the economy and provide about 40,000 to 50,000 jobs.

    And representatives of the Connecticut Marine Trade Association, the state's newly formed port authority and Mystic Seaport stepped up to the podium Thursday to say that adopting the dredging management program would help the region's maritime economy grow.

    A federal dredging project in the Mystic River has already benefited the Seaport, bringing more transient boats to the docks, according to Shannon McKenzie, director of watercraft programs at the Seaport.

    "The river's reputation for being 'silted in' at the mouth is changing," McKenzie said.

    The Seaport is a safe harbor for marine vessels during hurricanes, a designation that would not be possible without dredging, she said.

    U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, sent a representative to the meeting and submitted a statement.

    "If this dredging strategy 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," Courtney said. "Connecticut has been responsibly dredging using open-water placement for 35 years. Without the (Army Corps dredging management plan) and the continued access to open-water placement sites contingent on its approval, Connecticut will be negatively and disproportionally impacted — and my district in particular."

    The Army Corps will accept public comments on the plan through Oct. 5.

    They can be sent to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District (ATTN: LIS DMMP/PEIS Program Manager Meghan Quinn), 696 Virginia Road, Concord, MA 01742-2751; or by email to meghan.c.quinn@usace.army.mil.

    k.florin@theday.com

    Twitter: @KFLORIN

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