New DEC rules clogging creeks

Town Trustees would like to see James Creek in Mattituck and several others dredged this winter. The list of priorities has gone to the county Department of Public works for approval.

James Creek in Mattituck is at the top of the Southold Town Trustees’ list of creeks they’d like to be dredged this winter, since a winter’s worth of windy storms has narrowed the entrance to its inlet to the width of just one boat.

The Trustees sent a list of their top priorities to the Suffolk County Department of Public Works, which does the dredging each winter at no cost to the town, in late July.

Also on that list are Wickham Creek and Little Creek in Cutchogue, Halls Creek in Mattituck, West Creek in New Suffolk and Budds Pond in Southold.

Except in emergencies, creeks can be dredged only between Oct. 15 and mid-December or mid-January, thanks to strict new requirements from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation designed to protect winter flounder spawning grounds. Up until two years ago, the DEC allowed dredging from October through April 15.

The new restriction has led to a backlog in the number of East End creeks and harbors in need of dredging. James Creek was on a list the Trustees sent to the DPW last year and the county couldn’t dredge Brush’s Creek in Laurel during last year’s window and had to apply to the DEC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this spring for emergency dredging permits.

Jeff Strong, owner of Strong’s Marine on James Creek, said this week that the creek was in dire need of dredging. His business has placed white stakes in the narrow sections of the channel that have filled with silt to keep boaters from running aground.

“Southold Town is doing everything they can. They’ve got to get the DEC on board,” he said. “Our creek definitely needs it. It is passable but if you have a good size boat going in and another going out, one has to wait.”

Mr. Strong said that the creek had been dredged every other year until the new DEC rules kept it from being dredged last winter.

Trustee Dave Bergen, who is in charge of compiling the list, said that the Trustees used several criteria to determine which creeks needed dredging. Both James and Wickham creeks have commercial marinas, which vaulted them to the top of the list in order to ensure safe navigation.

Water quality is another key reason for dredging. In addition to housing Cutchogue Harbor Marina, Wickham Creek is closed to shellfishing, making it a prime candidate for the dredge list. But unlike James Creek, which has permits, the town only authorized the county to apply for DEC and Army Corps permits last week. Mr. Bergen said that the permitting process normally takes at least a year, but the town is going to ask the agencies to expedite the process.

“If it’s not dredged by next year, it will be down to one lane of travel,” said Mr. Bergen.

Halls Creek is an unusual candidate for the county’s list, since there is little public access and no navigable channel, but the county agreed to get permits to have it dredged three years ago in order to promote the health of the creek’s habitat.

“There’s a tremendous amount of wildlife up there,” said Mr. Bergen. “It’s a very large body of water and there are not many houses, but there’s a lot of runoff from roads.”

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