A controversial new plan would "treat Long Island Sound as a landfill"

A new dredging/dumping plan all but ensures continued contamination of the Long Island Sound for the next three decades. Credit: Erica Cirino, Summer 2014

A new dredging/dumping plan all but ensures continued contamination of the Long Island Sound for the next three decades. Credit: Erica Cirino, Summer 2014

Just a few days ago I posted a short piece here about an exciting new grant program meant to boost the health of the Long Island Sound (check it out here). But just a day later I was struck with some pretty disheartening news: long-term pollution of Long Island Sound has essentially been all but assured.

How? This Monday the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved a plan yesterday that has renewed the designated of four sites in the Long Island Sound as disposal sites for dredged materials for the next 30 years: Western Long Island Sound, Central Long Island Sound, Cornfield Shoals and New London.

Dredging is the act of scooping up the sediment in a waterway to make it more navigable by boats. It’s done because the natural process of sedimentation—silt and sand accumulating downstream—can fill channels and harbors used for transportation. Dredged sediments scooped out of waterways in and around the Long Island Sound have historically been dumped back into the water body at several designated sites.

In 2005, the governments of New York and Connecticut, as well as the EPA, together mandated that the Army Corps to develop what would become a Dredge Material Management Plan (DMMP), citing environmental concerns (toxins tend to accumulate on the floor of water bodies, and so dredged sediment often contains high concentrations of heavy metals, PCBs and pesticides).

These entities asked that the Army Corps phase out open water dumping in Long Island Sound in exchange for a dredged materials reuse program where less-toxic dredged sediment would be collected and used in benign or beneficial ways, such as restoring tidal wetlands, replenishing beaches, capping landfills and sealing abandoned mines.

Now the Army Corps has finally completed its DMMP, and while it does include plans for dredging alternatives, it doesn’t outline specifically how it will phase out open-water dumping of dredged materials. Instead, open-water dredge dumping will continue at the four sites listed above, for the next three decades.

In my preliminary examination of the 616-page plan, I’ve caught wind of some troubling language: for example, that the Army Corps plans on “reserving capacity for the more than 3 million CY (cubic yards) of unsuitable materials expected to be generated by Federal projects over the next 30 years….”

What’s a “CAD cell”? CAD, or Confined Aquatic Disposal cells are natural or manmade depressions at the bottom of freshwater or saltwater bodies filled with “unacceptably contaminated sediments.” In other words, holes at the bottom of the lake, river and sea floors are filled with sediment deemed too contaminated to dump. So the most toxic dredged sediments won’t be removed from the Long Island Sound, as they should be. They’ll be returned to the sea floor where they can migrate and leach into the water.

Local environmental groups, most vocally, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, are fighting against such open-water dredging in the Long Island Sound, and have been for decades, citing toxic pollution and low dissolved oxygen (hypoxia) conditions as major concerns in a region so strongly based on its fishing, tourism and recreation industries.

“The Army Corps simply ignored the overwhelming public comment to protect Long Island Sound and chose to advance the cheap, easy option of open water disposal instead,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “They plan to treat Long Island Sound as a landfill and it’s deeply disturbing.”

In the next few days I will spend more time reviewing the Army Corps’ plan. I am keen to see the reaction of local environmental groups and of the public to the DMMP.

Learn more and access the Army Corps’ DMMP here.


Lingering thoughts:

-What are your thoughts on dredging?

-How would you classify the current health of the Long Island Sound?

-What does keeping the Long Island Sound clean mean to you?