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Suffolk County spends $7M to dredge 16 waterways, half in Southold Town

Dredging operations in June in East Creek in

Dredging operations in June in East Creek in the Town of Riverhead. The county spent $7 million deepening 16 other waterways deemed priorities in six towns. Credit: Suffolk County

Boaters, anglers, beachgoers, homeowners and businesses all gain from Suffolk's end-of-the-year dredging, which cleared channels and built up beaches, officials said.

The county spent $7 million deepening 16 waterways deemed priorities in six towns, County Executive Steve Bellone said in a statement Friday.

“Now our commercial fishing and boating industries can have greater confidence when navigating local waterways while also strengthening our shoreline,” he said in a statement.

Every year, localities request dredgers. The towns of Riverhead, Southold, Southampton, East Hampton, Shelter Island and Islip were chosen this time, based on the depths of waterways and sandbars and other hazards, officials said.

Some projects are annual, some are on five- or 10-year cycles, according to Scott Hilary, director of waterways for the Suffolk Department of Public Works.

Since 2012, the county has undertaken 126 projects, though critics decry dredging as a costly and fleeting solution. How long the sand remains onshore cannot be estimated.

"That's an impossible question; Mother Nature decides that," said Bill Hillman, chief engineer for the Department of Public Works.

Environmentalists note dredging can harm "benthic life," tiny creatures that live on the sea bed, such as mollusks, an important fodder for larger species.

The county said it abided by federal and state environmental regulations. The DEC, for example, bars dredging beyond 6 feet at low tide to safeguard benthic life, Hilary said.

Suffolk's four-person dredge crew and contractors pumped about 167,000 cubic yards of sand along 11,000 feet of shoreline, Bellone said, which will protect infrastructure and add two miles to the county beachfront.

Though early winter weather cut the Oct. 1 to Jan. 1 dredging window by a third, other finished projects include spending almost $700,000 fattening the beach at the Great Peconic Bay's Meschutt County Park, and nearly $504,000 revitalizing Shelter Island's Coecles Harbor, officials said. 

About 1,300 feet of the park's beach was replaced, and a new berm or ridge should help it weather storms, officials said. The park has been visited by 150,000 people, who spent $400,000 just on parking, in the last three years, they said.

The work at Coecles Harbor included shoring up Reel Point, which shields $1 billion of real estate, millions of dollars of businesses and sea grass beds where shellfish grow, a $650,000-a-year industry, officials said.

Reel Point also protects Taylor's Island, the Rams Island Causeway and other tourist attractions, officials said. 

The 16 dredging projects were Northwest Harbor and Three Mile Harbor in East Hampton Town; Center Bay Canal in Islip Town; Hawks Creek in Riverhead Town; Coecles Harbor in Shelter Island; Brushes Creek, Deephole Creek, Gull Pond, James Creek, Little Creek, Mill Creek (Budds Pond), Mudd Creek and Richmond Creek, all in Southold; Cold Spring Pond, Fresh Pond, Sebonac Creek, all in Southampton.

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