Dredging of Browns River in Islip Town — a vital waterway for recreational and commercial boaters and local businesses — is almost a decade overdue and must be started as soon as possible, officials and residents said last week.
The mile-long river between Sayville and Bayport hasn’t been dredged in 17 years — nine years longer than normal — and accumulates so much silt that vessels get stuck in shallow water and sustain damage that keeps them in dry dock for repairs, officials and sailors said.
The problem not only annoys pleasure craft captains but also hurts the economy and poses a safety risk for Fire Island residents who depend on mainland firefighters and ambulance crews to respond to emergencies, officials said.
"Waterways ... [should be] dredged every eight years, so this is long overdue," State Sen. Alexis Weik (R-Sayville) said Thursday during a news conference at Sayville Ferry Service, one of several businesses she said had been affected by delayed dredging. "It can’t wait. We have no time."
Weik said the $2 million project is awaiting funding and permit approvals from a hodgepodge of governmental agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which would do the work, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Suffolk County and Islip Town.
Islip has a $500,000 state grant to help pay for the project, but it’s not clear how the town and county will raise the remaining $1.5 million or when work will begin, officials said.
"The success of this project requires approvals from multiple agencies," Islip spokeswoman Caroline Smith said in an email, adding that town officials "will continue to work collaboratively with all levels of government to identify an appropriate and expedient pathway to accomplish this goal."
Army Corps and DEC officials said in separate emails they have not received the funding or permit applications needed to move forward.
Weik said work cannot start until state, county and town officials grant permission to dump dredged material, known as spoils, on county- and town-owned land alongside the river in Bayport. That requires studies of soil samples to ensure that the river bottom is not contaminated, she said.
Meanwhile, business owners and residents say they are frustrated by the long wait for help. Their boats frequently run aground at low tide — and sometimes even at high tide — and have little room to pass one another as they navigate the river, they said.
"This simply can’t continue," said Sayville Ferry owner Ken Stein.
Shallow waters also might prevent mainland fire departments from carrying first responders on ferries across the Great South Bay for emergencies in Cherry Grove and other Fire Island hamlets, officials said.
"If you’re going to have a fire," said Donald Corkery of the Sayville Fire District, "you have to have it at high tide."