CONSERVANCY, CUOMO OPPOSE NEW LONDON DUMPSITE
In 2014, after a nine-year pause, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers resumed their proceedings under the Ocean Dumping Act (ODA) to designate one or more sites for open-water dumping of dredge spoils (more than 80% from Connecticut harbors and rivers) in Eastern Long Island Sound. A Conservancy team of Directors Bob Evans, Ace Ahrens and Geb Cook was appointed to track the proceedings and attend the hearings.
These proceedings had been initiated originally in 1996 in a direct response to the Conservancy's lawsuit challenging the dumping at the New London Dumpsite (located just 1.4 miles north of Fishers Island) of 2.4 million cubic yards of admittedly toxic spoils from the Seawolf submarine dredging project, principally on the grounds that the EPA and Army Corps had simply ignored the ODA for 15 years after it was extended to cover Long Island Sound. In 2002 the EPA suspended the site designation proceedings for Eastern Long Island Sound and in 2005 designated sites in Central and Western Long Island Sound. At that time the Governors of New York and Connecticut (in rare unanimity) issued a mandate to the Army Corps to produce a Sound-wide dredged material management plan (DMMP) that would assess dredging needs and explore alternative methods of disposal, with the stated goal of "reducing and eliminating open-water dumping".
This past spring - after 11 years -- the Army Corps finally published its disappointingly pro-open-water-dumping DMMP, and the EPA announced its proposal to designate New London as a permanent ODA dumpsite, doubling its size to accommodate the Army Corps' fanciful 23 million-cubic-yard projection of the 30-year dredging "needs" of Eastern Long Island Sound. Former Director Barry Bryan came out of retirement to assist the Conservancy team and offered some preliminary comments on behalf of the Conservancy at the EPA hearing at Avery Point in May, and then Bryan and fellow Retired Director and conservation biologist Margie Purnell collaborated to produce a detailed statement of the Conservancy's position for filing in the EPA proceedings.
This statement reviewed the Conservancy's frustrating and lonely 40-year history of opposition to dumping at New London and its position that New London is a woefully unsuitable site that fails to meet most of the ODA criteria for designation (shallow waters, strong Race currents, adjacent to sensitive marine habitats, bisected by submarine and shipping lanes) and that, indeed, there is no need to designate any dumpsite in Eastern Long Island Sound. The Conservancy has always recognized the need for dredging to keep harbors, marinas and navigation lanes open. What it opposes is the dumping of spoils in the confined waters of the fragile Long/Block Island Sound estuary, instead of using them for replenishing beaches or restoring tidal marshes or in building containment islands, or in highway construction materials or in innovative upland disposal technologies. If still more time is needed to develop these alternatives and open-water dumping is the only option for a necessary dredging project, it should be done off the Continental Shelf, as mandated by the ODA, or in deep open-ocean waters off Rhode Island, not in the confined waters of the Sound.
The Conservancy statement was filed with the EPA on July 15. Two weeks later (Geb Cook is convinced it was no coincidence) Gov. Cuomo came out with guns blazing, opposing the designation of New London or any other dumpsite in Eastern Long Island Sound - right out of the Conservancy playbook -- and threatening to sue the feds to reverse any dumpsite designation and block any permits to dump Connecticut "sludge" in the Sound.
» Read full Conservancy statement
» Cuomo's press release and strong letter to Obama
New York fired its first salvo in the pending battle on October 3 by filing a strong, 57-page formal Determination < http://www.dos.state.ny.us/opd/programs/consistencydecisions.html> with the EPA that the designation of an ODA dumpsite at New London would be invalid, in violation of NY State's Coastal Zone Management Program and the Town of Southold's Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan and the site designation criteria of the ODA, and as an arbitrary and capricious exercise of the EPA's rulemaking power. This declaration sets forth at length the scientific evidence supporting New York's contentions and contains the following stirring description of Fishers Island -- the crown jewel of the fragile ecosystem of the Eastern Sound that the State is so vigorously defending:
"Finally, the [State's Coastal Zone Management Program] identified Fishers Island and its surrounding waters as one of the State's regionally important natural areas; these areas possess significant natural resources which are at risk and require additional management to protect or restore resource values. The importance of the natural resources of the island are more than just regional as The Nature Conservancy has named the Peconic Bay/Block Island Sound area, including Fishers Island, as one of the world's "Last Great Places," and has included the region in its program designed to protect and manage natural habitats."