Connecticut AG argues against New York’s claims in dredging lawsuit

06/14/2019 6:00 AM |

A legal battle is brewing between New York and Connecticut over the dumping of dredge spoil material in eastern Long Island Sound.

In 2017, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency in response to a decision to allow dredged materials to be dumped in a 1.3-square-mile area entirely in Connecticut waters. The dump site is approximately 2.3 miles northwest of Fishers Island.

In a legal brief filed May 23, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong responded directly to the New York lawsuit, arguing that the EPA decision should be upheld. In the document, filed in the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, Mr. Tong states that the claims made by the New York plaintiffs do not have merit. Southold Town and Suffolk County are listed in court records as “Intervenor Plaintiffs” in addition to principal plaintiffs Rossana Rosado, secretary of state; DEC commissioner Basil Seggos; and the State of New York.

In the original 2017 filing, New York State officials claimed the EPA “arbitrarily inflated the projected volumes of dredged materials in order to justify the need for the [Eastern Long Island Sound Disposal Site]” and argued that the decision would disrupt boaters attempting to navigate in those waters as well as pose environmental risks.

Mr. Tong also argues that dredging is crucial to his state’s maritime economy, upon which thousands of people rely on for jobs. He noted that the Army Corps of Engineers found that the ability to build and launch submarines in Groton, Conn., would be “eliminated” without dredging.

“The record is abundantly clear — the selection of the Eastern Long Island Sound Disposal Site was done properly and lawfully and must proceed. Thousands of maritime jobs and billions of dollars in revenue depend on the ability to dredge and safely deposit materials. This challenge is without merit, and must not be allowed to impede our state’s maritime economy,” Mr. Tong said in a statement last Tuesday.

The document, filed by Mr. Tong on behalf of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, argues that New York had “ample opportunity for notice and comment on the administrative record” and “have not and cannot point to any relevant evidence contradicting the EPA’s record.”

Environmentalists on the North Fork criticized the EPA decision over concerns that the dredged materials from Connecticut could be toxic and the effects on the environment are unknown and potentially dangerous.

An Environmental Impact Statement prepared by the Army Corps of Engineers notes that silt and other shoal material dredged from harbors and areas “with a history of contamination and industrial use” would be subject to additional chemical testing.

Connecticut Congressman Joe Courtney said in a statement that the dredging management plan dates back to 2005 and was a collaboration between Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island officials.

“My office has been working to get this project across the finish line since 2007 with stakeholders including the U.S. Navy and Electric Boat, as well as local marinas and ferry boat services, all of whom understand the importance of this work. New York’s continued effort to block the designation of this site — which was approved by the EPA after years of intense environmental reviews and robust public engagement — wouldn’t just upend what has been an exhaustive and fully informed approval process, it would also disproportionately harm Connecticut’s eastern shoreline and economic activity, including recreational boating, commercial maritime transportation and shipbuilding, and important projects at the Coast Guard Academy and SUBASE New London,” the statement reads.

When the suit was filed, Group for the East End vice president Aaron Virgin referred to the decision as an “environmental catastrophe waiting to happen.”

Judge Edward Korman, who will preside over the case, has set July deadlines for each state to file their final documents related to the proceedings and could begin hearing arguments this summer.

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