Sound close to gaining no discharge zone status

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | An oil tanker docked in the Sound at Iron Pier in Northville.

The entire Long Island Sound, from the East River to Fishers Island, could soon join the Peconic Bay estuary as a federally designated no-discharge zone (NDZ), where it’s illegal for vessels of all sizes to dump sewage, treated or untreated, into the water.

Sewage dumped overboard can have damage marine habitats. Regulators say even a small discharge over shellfish beds could make people sick from eating raw shellfish.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency tentatively approved the Sound’s status on Monday, April 11. That opened a 30-day public comment period. Mark Tedesco, director of the EPA’s Long Island Sound office in Stamford, Ct, has said that, depending on the comments received, the EPA’s goal is to approve the NDZ by May 30.

The Peconic Bay system became a no discharge zone in 2002 and the Connecticut side of the Sound received NDZ status in 2007. Peconic Bay and the Sound are among only 28 waterways listed by the EPA as estuaries of “national significance.”

Local officials who have been working with state and federal agencies for years to gain the NDZ status hailed the decision.

“This is really great news,” said Southold Trustee Dave Bergen. “This supports our continued goal to improve water quality and support our valuable marine ecosystem.”

Under state navigation law, NDZ violations can result in fines of up to $1,000 per offense.

The New York-side Sound NDZ zone would cover 760 square miles. Based on 2008 vessel registrations, the EPA estimates that the Sound is home to about 11,700 recreational boats and another 500 small commercial vessels, including tugs, fishing boats and barges, which make up the bulk of the commercial traffic.