Town gets unusual out-of-season OK for a creek project

TIM KELLY PHOTO | Believe it or not, town Trustee David Bergen is standing in what used to be the channel of Little Creek in Cutchogue. The county dredge at the creek’s entrance, shown with two support vessels, later moved the sand to a nearby beach.

It was big deal to get a county dredge to clear the mouth of a little creek.

Little Creek in Cutchogue, to be precise. The problem wasn’t with the Suffolk County Department of Public Works, which had the requisite funding and had scheduled the clearing of the 5,000 or so cubic yards of sand clogging the channel to Little Peconic Bay just north of the Nassau Point Causeway. It was a question of timing.

The DPW crew wasn’t able to get to the work before the Dec. 15 state deadline, imposed to protect fish and other marine life during their spawning season.

But in a highly unusual — and highly welcome — decision, the state Department of Environmental Conservation waived the time limit, permitting the dredge to start digging at the end of last week.

“As far as I know, this hasn’t happened since the dredging windows were moved back from April 15 over a decade ago,” said town Trustee David Bergen, who led the fight for the special dredging permit. He praised Congressman Tim Bishop for assisting with Army Corps of Engineers approvals and state Senator Ken LaValle for interceding with New York’s Department of State, which also had to sign off on the project.

The county cleared the channels to seven other Southold creeks last year but ran out of time before it could take on Little Creek, Mr. Bergen said.

Before the dredge arrived, the mouth of Little Creek was, at 25 feet wide and two feet deep, half its usual width and depth, the trustee said. The town’s concerns went far beyond pleasure boating, he added.

“Environmentally it’s beneficial to have this waterway open,” said Mr. Bergen. “If it didn’t get dredged, the creek might not have been able to flush and temperatures would rise, causing difficulties for finfish and shellfish to reproduce.”

Superstorm Sandy in October led to increased silting in many local waterways and the DEC’s response has been “very responsible and understanding,” the Trustee said.

County Legislator Al Krupski, a Cutchogue resident and former town Trustee, agreed.

“The DEC has been much better since the storm,” Mr. Krupski said. “I think they’re looking at coastal erosion processes much differently.”

He also praised Mr. Bergen for pushing for the special permit.

“He’s been relentless,” the legislator said.

The creek is a short distance from a Cutchogue Park District beach that was hit hard by Sandy and will be rebuilt with dredged material.

“The stars lined up perfectly for this to take place,” Mr. Krupski said.

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