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Source: The Day

Plan for New London dredge disposal site debated at public hearing


Posted: May 27, 2016
Originally Published: May 26, 2016

Groton — Continuing to dispose of silt and sand scooped out of Long Island Sound’s harbors, navigation channels and marinas at a site between the mouth of the Thames River and the southwestern end of Fishers Island is either a reasonable, rational action or an abrogation of regulators’ responsibilities.

Those widely divergent views on the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to designate the 1.5-square mile area known as the New London Disposal Site as the location where dredged materials can be dumped were expressed by speakers at a public hearing Thursday afternoon. The hearing, at the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus, was followed by a second hearing that evening.

“I’m frightened to think about the negative impact on our economy if we cannot maintain open water dredge disposal,” said Dawn Schieferdecker, chairwoman of the Connecticut Marine Trades Council and owner of a marine-related business.

She said the New London site has been shown to be “the most cost-effective and environmentally sound for most dredge material,” and noted that marina owners and others seeking to remove accumulated silt and sand around docks and channels must undergo a lengthy permitting process that is “not cheap and not easy.”

“Our industry welcomes alternatives” to open-water dumping, she said, but believes it is not possible to reuse much of the dredged material on beach replenishment, marsh restoration and other land-based projects, as opponents to dredging advocate.

In April, the EPA announced that its analysis of how dredge material from Eastern Long Island Sound should be handled for the next 30 years had concluded that part of the current New London Disposal Site, slated to close in December, should remain open. Under its plan, the eastern half of the site, which is at capacity, would close. The western half would remain open and two adjacent areas added.

As part of its analysis, the EPA also considered a site off Niantic Bay and the Cornfield Shoals site off Old Saybrook, which is currently open but also slated to close in December. It concluded than Cornfield Shoals should be available only for small private projects. Material placed at the New London site, the EPA said, tends to stay put more than at the other two sites.

The EPA will continue to receive written public comment through June 27, and plans to finalize its decision this summer.

Opponents to the plan included Barry Bryan, a resident of Fishers Island and longtime member of the Fishers Island Conservancy. He said he was speaking on behalf of the conservancy.

“The New London dumpsite was a bad place to dump admittedly toxic and contaminated spoils in 1976 and 1995,” he said, referring to past battles over dredge material placed there. “It is a bad place to dump allegedly ‘suitable’ fine grain spoils today.”

He said the EPA’s analysis is deeply flawed, not giving adequate consideration to alternatives and minimizing the effects on fish habitat, submarine and shipping lanes that would occur if the New London site is used.

Under the EPA’s plan, the newly configured New London site would be able to receive about 27 million cubic yards of dredge material over the next 30 years. The agency estimates that the amount of sand and silt that will need to be dredged over that time is about 22.6 million cubic yards, but is providing for excess capacity to provide the eastern Sound with a disposal site for decades and avoiding the lengthy process of finding a new one.

Also opposing the plan was Louis Burch, program manager for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a group that works in both the New York and Connecticut sides of the Sound.

He called it a “business as usual plan” that will be counterproductive to the progress made in cleaning up Long Island Sound. The practice of open-water dumping should be phased out, he said.

Instead of opting for the “cheapest and easiest solution,” Burch said, the EPA should insist on finding ways to reuse dredge materials on land. He also said the EPA’s analysis “undervalued” the fish habitat and navigational impacts of using the New London site.

In its plan, the EPA said it supports finding alternative uses for dredge materials whenever possible. A Long Island Sound Regional Dredge Team comprising representatives of New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and several governmental agencies, has been established to promote reuse projects, said Mel Cote, chief of the surface water branch for EPA Region 1.

“We have made significant progress,” he said. There has been a 35 percent reduction in the amount of dredge material placed in the Sound over the last nine years compared to the two decades before that, he said.

Supporters of the EPA’s plan included State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, who said dredge material is regulated to ensure it is not contaminated before it is dumped, and that having a disposal site available “supports the region’s economic vitality.”

George Wisker, environmental analyst for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s Office of Long Island Sound Programs, said the New London site is “critical to meeting the future needs of Electric Boat and the sub base.”

“Connecticut is committed to working with partners to develop alternatives to open water disposal,” he said. “But it will take a long time.

William Spicer, owner of Spicer’s Marina in Noank, said New York state is opposing the plan as a way of “harassing Connecticut waterfront entities” and favoring its own businesses.

“The eastern Long Island Sound site should be given approval,” he said.

James Stidfole, a member of the New London Port Authority, called the New London site “necessary and obvious.”