NY to Sue EPA Over Long Island Sound Dredge Dumping Plan

Bayville Beach
A beach in Bayville, overlooking the Long Island Sound on May, 15 2010. (Photo by Mike LoCascio)

New York State will sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to block the agency’s approval of plans to dump dredged material in the eastern Long Island Sound, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday.

The announcement came the same day the EPA formally designated the eastern portion of the Sound as a permanent disposal site for dredge spoils—a move that the governor said violates federal law and an agreement the agency made with the state a decade ago. EPA officials have said the move is environmentally sound. Environmentalists cheered the lawsuit, which dozens of LI lawmakers have been urging Cuomo to pursue for months.

“Continuing to use this precious economic and ecological resource as a dumping ground is unacceptable and—on behalf of current and future generations of New Yorkers—we intend to fight this decision using any and all legal means,” Cuomo said.

The Sound, which lies between the North Shore of LI and the southern shore of Connecticut, was previously deemed an impaired waterway, a designation that qualifies it for funding to address poor water quality.

The U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers and its contractors have for years used designated areas in the Sound to dispose of material pulled up from the bottom of boating channels that need to be regularly dredged to ensure safe navigation. The EPA noted there are already four other dredge disposal sites on the Connecticut side of the Sound, although two are scheduled to be phased out at the end of this year. The fifth would debut next month.

A spokesman for the EPA said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. But Curt Spalding, the EPA’s New England regional administrator, has said the plan balances both environmental and economic needs.

“Our decision is based on sound science, reflects extensive public input and strikes an appropriate balance between the need for dredging to maintain safe navigation and protecting the significant natural resources of Long Island Sound,” he said. “The site protections and restrictions we included in the final rule are intended to help meet the goal of reducing or eliminating dredged material disposal in the open waters of Long Island Sound.”

State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) officials counter that the EPA didn’t fully considered the effects of dumping dredged materials into the Sound, didn’t prioritize alternatives to open water dumping and didn’t go far enough in analyzing other disposal sites. There are also concerns about whether the sediment will be properly tested before its dumped.

“Long Island Sound is an essential economic and environmental treasure in New York and one in which the state has invested billions to restore,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.

New York has to wait 60 days from filing its letter announcing its intention to sue before formally filing suit. It intends to cite the Ocean Dumping Act as well as a 2005 agreement with the EPA that set a goal to reduce or eliminate dumping dredge spoils in the Sound, Cuomo said.