Three New York lawmakers cited "dangerously shallow waters" in Jones Inlet in requesting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expedite a plan to dredge the waterway before this year's boating season instead of in the fall.
In a letter Tuesday, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), cited an "urgent need" to clear the widely used inlet, which has experienced increased shoaling and led to at least one boater mishap tied to the deaths of two passengers.
"We strongly urge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to immediately undertake all appropriate measures necessary to dredge Jones Inlet … before summer of 2022," the lawmakers wrote, saying "dangerously shallow waters in this critical gateway are forcing" boaters to remain "inside the bay."
Nassau has around 32,000 registered boaters, 20 commercial partyboats and eight commercial trawlers, the lawmakers noted, advocating for the City of Long Beach and Town of Hempstead.
Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin joined with Schumer last year to urge the federal government to streamline emergency dredging.
"The dredging of Jones Inlet is an important project to help improve boater safety and protect the local ecosystem of this seaside community," Clavin said.
Conditions at the inlet have reduced water depths at the critical passageway to around three feet, they said. "During periods of low tide, storms or heavy winds can quickly create deadly waves capable of curling and capsizing any boat." They cited a May 2020 mishap when a recreational boat flipped over due to the inlet's condition, killing two passengers.
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said the inlet, which was previously dredged every six years, hadn't been scoured since 2014.
"It's very overdue. The lack of action is extremely concerning and it shouldn't take another death to get the federal government moving," Kaminsky said. "It's a pivotal chokepoint and anyone on South Shore waters knows it’s critical. When the wind blows the right way, the waves are furious and it can be treacherous."
Schumer, Rice and Gillibrand also cited potential economic impacts of limited access through the inlet.
"Many large commercial fishing boats that attract customers by going out ... [to] the ocean must now remain inside the bay, leaving their passengers with fewer opportunities to catch fish big enough to keep," they wrote, adding some "may be forced to close."
U.S. Army Corps spokesman James D'Ambrosio said the agency's New York District is "aware of the issue regarding Jones Inlet," which he noted is President Joe Biden's fiscal 2022 budget for dredging. "Once the funds are allocated New York District will begin design and environmental coordination immediately with the goal of starting construction in fall of 2022."