Senators seek funds for Fire Island dredging

An Army Corp of Engineers dredge stands in An Army Corp of Engineers dredge stands in Fire Island Inlet. New York's two senators believe they have identified at least $30 million to dredge the inlet, which is so clogged with sand that the U.S. Coast Guard has warned boaters to avoid it. The funds would also replenish sand at Robert Moses State Park. Photo Credit: Jim Peppler, 2008

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New York's two senators believe they have identified at least $30 million to dredge Fire Island Inlet, which is so clogged with sand that the U.S. Coast Guard has warned boaters to avoid it.

A month after the Coast Guard recommendation, Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) Tuesday wrote to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers outlining where they thought money already in the federal treasury could be used for dredging.

The two agencies responded that they would work with the senators to determine the plan's feasibility. Last month the Corps said it did not foresee having funding for dredging the inlet for at least a year because none was in the current federal budget or one proposed for next year.

The senators' proposal would combine Corps "operations and maintenance funding" with FEMA disaster aid for dredging Fire Island Inlet and beach replenishment at Robert Moses State Park and other Fire Island beaches after storms in recent years.

The senators asked the agencies to combine nearly $23 million in overdue FEMA replenishment projects for Fire Island beaches with Corps funding from the new federal appropriations bill. The Corps received a six-month national allocation of about $1 billion in the appropriations bill passed last month. Schumer and Gillibrand said they could direct some of this money to dredge the inlet.

They said the federal funds could be combined with $7 million of state New York Works capital funding recently designated for the inlet.

"We must immediately pool federal and local resources to fix this urgent problem before the situation worsens," Gillibrand said.

Schumer said, "Water depths as shallow as one foot . . . not only prevents the Coast Guard from effectively protecting our waterways but also hurts our commercial and recreational fishermen."

Corps spokesman Chris Gardner said his agency "has been exploring this approach with FEMA."

FEMA spokesman Donald Caetano said his agency will "cooperate with other pertinent agencies."

The Corps has estimated to the senators that about $20 million to $25 million is required to begin a basic dredging project. The lawmakers noted that the state Office of Emergency Management has submitted requests totaling $23 million for repairs to Fire Island beaches for damage in the past three years, but the money has not been released.

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