Calling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to designate one or more open-water disposal sites in the eastern region of the Long Island Sound misguided, Rep. Lee Zeldin, other local politicians and environmental activists Friday urged the EPA to abandon its plan.
Over the years, the public has spent millions of dollars to restore water quality in the Sound, he said, so it’s counterproductive for federal officials to continue to allow dredged spoils to be placed in the middle of the estuary.
“The Long Island Sound shouldn’t be a dumping ground, especially when there are many viable alternatives to open-water dumping, including recycling and safe disposal on land,” Zeldin (R-Shirley) said at a news conference at Cedar Beach, located on the Sound in Mt. Sinai.
A spokesman for the EPA did not respond Friday to criticisms leveled by Zeldin and others. Previously, the EPA, which governs ocean dumping, said open-water disposal was safe.
Harbors and ports need to be dredged to allow boats, cargo ships and passenger liners to pass safely. The contentious question is where to put the muck, and the cost of different disposal methods.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency overseeing 52 navigation projects — 31 in Connecticut, 17 in New York and four in Rhode Island — earlier this year released a plan, which estimated that dredging was expected to produce as much as 53 million cubic yards of sludge over the next three decades.
Since the 1980s, dredged spoils have been dumped at four open-water disposal sites in the Sound. Permits for two locations, Cornfield Shoals and New London, in the eastern region of the Sound expire Dec. 23.
The EPA, which said existing disposal sites didn’t have the capacity to handle the anticipated volume over the next 30 years, wants to keep half of the New London (western portion) site open and expand it to include an adjacent portion to its west. This proposed location, named Eastern Long Island Sound, is EPA’s preferred disposal site.
However, New York’s Department of State, which governs the coast, and the Department of Environmental Conservation, said additional disposal sites were not needed.
“Our review of the estimates has yielded a much different conclusion,” Sandra Allen, deputy secretary of state said in a July 18 letter to the EPA. “Based on our analysis of the information in the [Dredged Material Management Plan], over the next 30 years there is anticipated to be approximately 34.4 million cubic yards of fine-grained dredged material suitable for open water disposal, well within the current stated capacity at the Western and Central sites of 40 [million cubic yards].”
Sludge pulled from the bottom of rivers, lakes and harbors can contain mercury, lead and pesticides, and is harmful to marine life, said critics, who again urged federal officials to repurpose the material and put it to use. Most of the muck comes from Connecticut.
“We fought this plan 10 years ago, and it’s back — bigger and worse than ever,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, an advocacy group based in Farmingdale. “The plan is to use Long Island Sound as Connecticut’s landfill.”