Support grows for lawsuit challenging EPA’s dredge dumping plan

Long Island Sound Greenport

Less than a week after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state is preparing to sue the Environmental Protection Agency, local officials and environmentalists have extended their support to the state, which is challenging the federal agency’s decision to permanently allow dumping of dredged material in Long Island Sound.

Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski said it is encouraging to see the state take this step.

“We should all do whatever we can to support [the governor] in this because open water disposal of dredge spoils is not allowed in New York State and it should certainly not be allowed in the Long Island Sound,” he said. “We’re spending millions of dollars to try and improve water quality and this activity would definitely set us back.”

The state’s pushback came on the same day as the EPA’s final ruling to designate the eastern Long Island Sound site a disposal area for materials pulled up by dredging projects in Connecticut and elsewhere.

While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said the waste will be tested for toxins before being dumped into the Sound, environmental advocates still fear the process will affect water quality.

Robert Evans, a resident of Fishers Island and member of the Fishers Island Conservancy board of directors, said that group feels there has not been a genuine effort by the EPA to come up with alternatives to the site, which is 2.3 nautical miles northwest of the island. Members of the nonprofit have attended EPA scoping hearings over the past three or four years and the topic of alternate disposal “has been dismissed out of hand,” he said.

Mr. Evans said the group does not object to the dredging of ports, but is concerned about how dredged material, if toxic, could affect the Sound.

“It’s a contained area, so once you put spoiled material there it doesn’t have an opportunity to escape,” he said. “It’s going to plague you for a long time.”

Connecticut-based program Save the Sound believes maintaining access to the Sound is a priority and dredging costs must be contained, executive director Curt Johnson said. But if there’s one outcome they’d like to see from a lawsuit, it’s repurposing of the dredged material, he said.

“I think we need to stop thinking of relatively clean dredged material, which is most of what goes out to that area of the Sound, as waste and start looking at it as a resource for rebuilding critical natural infrastructure,” Mr. Johnson said. The material could be used to restore Long Island’s marshes which, according to data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have been reduced significantly over the past three decades, he said.

In an interview last week, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell — who has opposed the dumping — described the EPA’s ruling as “stupidity, arrogance, incompetence or all three.”

“It is a shame that it needs to get to the level where a state government has to sue the federal government to make sure the will of the public is followed,” Mr. Russell said. “This is the same federal government that takes swift action on road signs. It is the same federal government that has spent millions of dollars to restore the Long Island Sound and has declared it a national estuary.”

In 2005, the EPA set a goal of reducing or eliminating dredge dumps in the Sound. The latest plan to allow new dump sites in waters off Southold Town “contradicts this agreement,” Mr. Cuomo said.

The governor also said the state will sue the EPA under the federal Ocean Dumping Act, a 1972 law that limits or prevents dumping that could pose a threat to human health and welfare, the marine environment or local economies.

New York State must now wait 60 days from the EPA’s ruling before filing a legal claim against the agency under the Ocean Dumping Act, officials said.

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Photo: The Long Island Sound off Greenport. (Credit: Grant Parpan)