Privately-funded dredging project underway at Downs Creek


Though heavy fog on Monday afternoon rendered them almost invisible from the road a few hundred feet away, the mechanical clinking of cranes and bulldozers cut through and were clearly audible from Downs Creek.

The heavy equipment is being used to dredge the Cutchogue creek’s mouth in a project that got underway Monday, months after town, state and federal bodies granted approval. Proponents, including a winery owner who is footing the entire multi-thousand dollar bill on his own, say the dredging will reinvigorate waters near the creek that have grown stagnant as a sandbar slowly closed off the entryway.

“I’m thrilled,” said Cutchogue resident and winemaker Russ McCall, who is paying for the project. “It’s a good thing for the whole East End.”

Mr. McCall, who lives a stone’s throw from the creek’s entrance, submitted the applications for the dredging project more than a year ago. By this spring, he had received approval from the town and from Suffolk County, but he had to wait for final approval to come from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Southold Town does not conduct dredging projects, and Suffolk County would not conduct the project since it does not open up a passage for boat navigation. Therefore, Mr. McCall decided to pay for the project himself as a “public service” to help the creek and its tributaries, which stretch north almost to Main Road, enjoy healthier, cleaner water.

“The Army Corps of Engineers has finally agreed that it’s for the health and environmental quality of the creek,” he said.

Mr. McCall was out of town Monday when progress started, but Southold Board of Trustees member Dave Bergen called him in the morning to alert him to the good news. Mr. Bergen likened the progress to Christmas coming early.

“I got the call this morning that they were starting and I was thrilled,” he said. “It’ll be a much better habitat.”

Before dredging commenced, a sandbar had built up near the mouth of Downs Creek over a five-year period, preventing water from flowing in and out freely. Workers will dig up about 3,000 cubic yards of sediment and cut a new, straightforward inlet directly across the sandbar, allowing the creek to flush itself more easily.

The excavated material will then be placed onto an existing islet in the middle of the creek to build up a natural bird sanctuary.

The project will likely be completed in a manner of days, Mr. Bergen said.

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Photo caption: Construction equipment will dig up sediment from the creek to open a new, more direct inlet, allowing water to flow in and out more easily. (Credit: Chris Lisinski)