April 26, 2006
Dredging Delayed By Funding Cuts
The East End may be home to the smallest percentage of Suffolk's population, but it boasts 75% of the county's waterways. And lots of those waterways, particularly in Suffolk's smallest town, Shelter Island, need county help in the form of dredging.
That help may be a while coming. This week North Fork Legislator Ed Romaine expressed dismay upon noting that County Executive Steve Levy's proposed capital budget cuts funding for dredging projects by $615,000 or 50% for 2007.
He plans to file a resolution seeking a $5 million addition to the capital budget. The money would be used to purchase a second dredge and a booster pump that would allow dredge spoil to be pumped further away, thus increasing the variety of places where spoils can be deposited.
Romaine also said this week that he'll seek restoration of excised funding. There is "a dramatic and drastic need" for dredging in the Peconic Bay region, the legislator opined. He derided the cutting of money for the projects as "very irresponsible" since dredging helps both the economy through the recreational boating industry, and the environment, by enhancing tidal flow in waterways. Further, Romaine suggested the county executive purposely crafts budgets that leave out necessary projects in order to be able to boast a low bottom line. Members of the legislature are then forced to add funding for projects back into the spending plan, setting themselves up to be painted with a spendthrift brush by the CE. Last year, lawmakers boosted Levy's proposed budget by close to $90 million.
Earlier this month Romaine and Shelter Island Supervisor Alfred Kilb hosted a summit, bringing together officials from the disparate government agencies involved in dredging projects.
While Suffolk County is the entity that undertakes the projects, before a single scintilla of spoil can be spooned the project must first undergo review by the Army Corps of Engineers and the State Department of Environmental Conservation. That means acquiring all the needed permits "takes quite a bit of time," Kilb pointed out. He noted that one goal of the summit was to get a better handle on how the process works and especially on whether there is any way to expedite it.
On Shelter Island, there are a variety of projects awaiting the green light, some more urgent than others. At the top of the "urgent" list is work near the South Ferry landing site and at Silver Beach Lagoon.
Kilb made clear that dredging is not just necessary for the boating industry. It's needed for fire protection as well. There are no fire hydrants on Shelter Island, the supervisor reminded. Fire responders draft water from the closest source to fight fires. In some areas, like Silver Beach Lagoon, there's a fear that someday firefighters will draw only mud. If there's a fire during low tide, there's a possibility enough water couldn't be drawn to extinguish it. "We consider that an emergency," Julius Manchise, President of the Shelter Island Silver Beach Civic Association said.
Additionally, the lagoon is considered a "hurricane hole," meaning it's the designated shelter for ferries in the event of a weather emergency.
Bill Hillman, an engineer with the county department of public works, said the Silver Beach application was held up because there was no acceptable site to place spoil. Peter Scully of the DEC described finding a spoil site for the project "a major breakthrough." The DEC and town officials have worked out an agreement and surveys were underway, Hillman reported. From there, county officials would prepare applications for submission to the DEC and Army Corps, hopefully by this summer. The job is scheduled to commence during the winter 2007-2008 dredging season.
None of the officials made any promises when asked by residents to speed up the project. They did, however, point out that a conference among all the involved agencies could help move the application process along quicker.
The supervisor wondered whether the town couldn't work with other governmental agencies to develop a dredging master plan that would include naming spoil sites. Hillman and Scully both noted that such a plan might not be a worthwhile undertaking since environmental criteria are constantly changing.
Last year the county completed 23 dredging projects, Hillman informed. Of them, five were undertaken by a private company that has since been suspended from working on municipal projects pending the outcome of a federal probe into alleged bid rigging. It is the only company that's worked on county projects for the last decade or so, Hillman said. He declined to elaborate further, but the news prompted Romaine to suggest the purchase of a second dredge. Back in the '80s, during his first stint on the horseshoe, Suffolk ran two dredges, but now has only one.
"This is where spending money is smart, because in the long run you'll save money," Romaine said, announcing plans to call for the purchase this year. "The loss of a viable contractor and the fact that the county only has one dredge could bring the dredging in this county to a halt," he said, adding, "We need to purchase a second dredge to ensure these projects continue in a timely fashion." Since the season runs from September through April, county officials have a little time to find a new contractor, however. They are reportedly in short supply.
Assemblyman Marc Alessi was also present at the summit. He said he'd seek state funding to help underwrite the cost of a second machine, as well as dredging at the area near the ferry slips.
So far, according to Glenn Waddington of South Ferry no slips have been rendered unusable by excessive silting, but the company is worried that eventually one of the slips may not work. It's more than a business consideration, Alessi pointed out. "This is a lifeline for Shelter Island. It's imperative we assure its safe operation," he said. Alessi and Romaine both felt that, because the ferry could be construed as part of State Route 114 and therefore part of the New York highway system, state aid could be used to undertake dredging.
Overall both hosts seemed pleased with the outcome of the forum. Romaine said he felt a lot was accomplished by gathering all the players together in the same room. Kilb was grateful to officials who traveled to the island and expressed the hope of finding ways to develop an ongoing schedule of dredging projects as well as a way to expedite the permit process. "We're all practical people," he said. "We have to look at the problem harder."