The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has begun a $12 million emergency dredging of Moriches Inlet to remove heavy sand buildup, caused by several powerful nor’easters, that created hazardous boating conditions, federal and state officials announced Friday.
Four storms last winter created a buildup of 300,000 cubic yards of sand, clogging the inlet, which feeds Moriches Bay and sits between Smith Point County Park and Cupsogue Beach County Park in Brookhaven and Southampton towns.
The inlet provides access to the Atlantic Ocean and is a major economic driver for marine-related businesses in the region.
"Failure to dredge these vital waterways would not only cause economic hardship and create a public safety crisis, but will bring about significant environmental issues," Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said at a news conference Friday at the U.S. Coast Guard Station in East Moriches. "Moriches Inlet provides a critical environmental function, allowing the transfer of water between the bay and ocean. Without this exchange, the bay would become stagnant and the subsequent lack of oxygen in the water would threaten local marine life."
Since mid-March, the Coast Guard has advised against boat travel through the inlet because of significant shoaling, with mariners encouraged to find alternate navigable routes.
Zeldin in March asked the Army Corps for an emergency declaration to expedite dredging of the inlet. The emergency declaration was approved in April, allowing the Army Corps to coordinate funding and permits.
In June, House and Senate lawmakers announced that $12.25 million in funding for the work was included in the Army Corps’ fiscal 2018 work plan.
"It is full steam ahead for the Moriches Inlet emergency dredge that local fishermen, boaters, businesses and first responders desperately need to navigate this crucial waterway," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.
Sand removed from the inlet will be placed at Smith Point County Park in Shirley to address beach erosion, restore dunes, support the boardwalk and defend the beach against future storms, officials said.
Moriches Inlet last had an emergency dredging after superstorm Sandy in 2012.
While $12 million is enough to complete the emergency work, a more complete dredging of the inlet will cost an additional $6 million, officials said.
Zeldin said that earlier this summer he also secured $3 million in federal funding for the emergency dredging of the Long Island Intracoastal Waterway to restore it to its 6-foot depth.