After years of minor annual maintenance at the mouth of Goldsmith Inlet in Peconic, Southold Town officials are hoping for “a more substantial dredging” to keep the inlet opened longer, according to Supervisor Scott Russell.
Town officials met last Tuesday with representatives from the Suffolk County Department of Public Works to come up with a plan for the inlet.
The jetty at the inlet was built in 1963 and turned over to the town the following year, and officials say it contributes to capturing sand that ends up choking off the inlet, in turn threatening the health of the waterway and the marine life there.
Hugh Switzer of the Group to Save Goldsmith Inlet said that if a second jetty had been built east of the current one in 1963, it would have kept the channel open.
“We’ve had one jetty that creates this big funnel and forces all the sand into the pond,” he said in an interview. “It’s like six feet of sand in the pond and it’s killed all the shellfish.”
Mr. Switzer said that Autumn Lake, the pond into which the inlet flows, once had oysters, mussels, scallops, clams, crabs, eels and fin fish. Now, he said, it hardly has any — and even if it did, shellfishing has been banned there for decades because the water is so polluted.
“It completely closed up twice this summer and immediately turned into a swamp,” Mr. Switzer said. “You could see the algae growing and the fish dying.”
He said the jetty’s negative effects weren’t immediate in the 1960s and the pond didn’t get really bad until about 15 years ago.
The Town Trustees conducted field inspections at the inlet throughout the late winter and early spring. Trustee president John Bredemeyer says those inspections, contained in a draft report, confirm reports from concerned citizens and government officials that the inlet was blocked off entirely for extended periods. The Trustees also heard reports from residents of a dead fish odor coming from the inlet at times.
Fearing a potential die-off of marine life there, the Trustees initiated additional testing at the inlet in July and August, which showed low dissolved oxygen levels at six testing stations.
“The observations and data collected for the period Aug. 25-26 strongly support the notion that the headwaters suffered a significant anoxic event, killing fish and nearly killing all beneficial aquatic vegetation during that period,” Mr. Bredemeyer wrote in the report.
Mr. Russell said the maintenance dredging the town does at the inlet each year merely moves the sand farther down the beach and usually doesn’t keep the inlet open for long.
“The goal is to do a dredging that lasts,” he said. “It’s easier said than done.”
The maintenance dredging generally cost $6,000 to $8,000, Mr. Russell said. The last time a more substantial dredging was done, he said, the cost was about $40,000, but that was a long time ago and he doesn’t know what the cost would be now.
Last week’s meeting was not open to the public, but Southold’s town engineers Michael Collins and Jamie Richter did attend, said county Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who was also present.
“The long-term goal is trying to figure out how to keep [the inlet] open and have it flush effectively,” Mr. Krupski said. “Ultimately, it should be opened up for shellfishing. There’s quite a shellfish resource in that inlet.”
It would be up to the state Department of Environmental Conservation to determine if the water is healthy enough to allow shellfishing, he added.
The DEC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are working with the town and the county to come up with a solution, Mr. Krupski said.
“The cost will depend on what everyone decides the final project will be,” he said. “How far, how deep, how wide the channels will be.”
Mr. Switzer said residents would support whatever project the Army Corps comes up with to solve the problem.
“They’ve got the expertise in this area that doesn’t exist at the town or county level,” he said.
While small boats could traverse the inlet before the jetty was built, Mr. Krupski said the goal now is merely to preserve the health of the inlet and Autumn Lake.
The county has a screening committee that holds public meetings on dredging projects, and Mr. Krupski said he has requested that such a meeting be set up for this project.
“We want to make sure everyone is on the same page,” he said.
Photo credit: Tim Gannon