It won’t be long until the county dredge that opens up Southold’s waterways each winter has to pack up and leave for the season.
But in an unusual offer intended to make sure the work gets done before a Dec. 15 deadline, the town has agreed to cover the county employees’ overtime pay.
The dredging work was placed in doubt by outgoing County Executive Steve Levy’s moratorium on overtime pay for county workers. With those employees working regular hours, it appeared doubtful that the dredging could be completed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s strictly enforced dredging season closure, which is either Dec. 15 or Jan. 15, depending on the location.
That prompted Supervisor Scott Russell to make a deal with county Legislator Ed Romaine and county public works commissioner Gil Andersen for the town to pay up to $6,850 in overtime expenses for county dredge operators. The Town Board approved the expenditure last Tuesday and Mr. Andersen is seeking extensions of the dredging window from the DEC and the Army Corps of Engineers.
The county has only one relatively small dredge, which is in high demand across the North and South forks.
“We are not certain that we can get all of requested dredging done, but are certain we can get more done than if we only had crews working straight time while we were facing a deadline imposed by the windows,” Mr. Russell said this week.
Town Trustee David Bergen, who is handling day-to-day coordination of the dredging, said the town initially expected the county to begin work in early November. But the dredge crew was engaged in a large project in Southampton and didn’t arrive in Southold until the beginning of December.
Mr. Bergen said the crew has already dredged Corey Creek and early this week was at Budd’s Pond by the Port of Egypt marina in Southold. Next up are Jockey Creek and Richmond Creek in Southold, then Little Creek in Cutchogue. The town prioritized its top 10 dredging projects earlier this year, but the county doesn’t often get to every creek on the town’s list.
“Hurricane Irene did damage to the southwestern and southern creeks,” said Mr. Bergen. “We suffered a lot of erosion due to the tropical storm.”
The trustee said he believes the county has already requested an extension from the DEC to dredge Little Creek later this month.
“As with every year, the largest issue remains the dredge window,” said Mr. Bergen. “It was reduced from six months to three months a few years ago. That greatly limits the ability of the county to get in and do the work.”
The winter dredge window was reduced to limit the threat to the winter flounder spawning season. Although winter flounder numbers are in drastic decline, some argue that the fish do not begin to spawn until January, making the December cutoff unnecessary.
Mr. Bergen added that dredging helps keep oxygen and pH at healthy levels for wildlife, including spawning fish.
Trustee President Jill Doherty praised the collaborative effort, but cautioned that the town is “not going to be paying overtime for county workers” every year.
Mr. Russell also said he doesn’t plan to set that precedent.
Ms. Doherty said maintenance dredging is essential to marinas in creeks, which depend on access to navigable waterways for their survival.
“If they’re not dredged, they won’t be usable,” she said. “It’s going to bring more money into the economy. Sometimes you have to spend a little to make a lot.”