KINGS PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Environmentalists and elected officials in New York are rekindling a long-running dispute with Connecticut over dumping what critics say is potentially harmful silt from dredging projects into Long Island Sound, the massive waterway that separates the states.
The fight centers on the Environmental Protection Agency's proposal that would permit additional disposal of dredge materials at several sites in the Sound for the next 30 years. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday the state would consider legal action if federal officials proceed.
"The Long Island Sound is one of New York's greatest natural treasures and a vital component of Long Island's tourism industry," Cuomo said. "The EPA's plan to establish a new disposal site not only poses a major threat to this ecologically vital habitat, but impedes our progress in ending open water dumping in Long Island's waters once and for all."
Cuomo was joined by a bi-partisan contingent of elected officials and environmentalists at a news conference at a state park overlooking the water, with the shoreline of Connecticut in the distance.
"The public loves this water body and has always considered Long Island Sound to be an extension of our home," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "We consider the Sound as our front yard, or our backyard but never as a junkyard. We expect the EPA to protect the Sound, not pollute the Sound."
An EPA spokesman said a final decision on dumping, which has been permitted since the 1980s, would be made later this year.
"Dredging is needed to ensure safe navigation in the Sound," said EPA spokesman Dave Deegan. "The EPA has not made a final decision, but we believe the proposal strikes an appropriate balance between the need for dredging to maintain safe and efficient navigation, and our desired outcome to restore and protect Long Island Sound."
Last month, both the Connecticut and Rhode Island congressional delegations told the EPA it supported the proposal. The lawmakers sent a letter to the EPA expressing the importance of "preserving and protecting the environment" in the region. They argue that transporting dredged materials to other sites would increase carbon emissions from ships and the risk of dredged material spills.
Connecticut officials say they agree with goals set by the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to find alternatives to dumping the silt, but say it's not always practical, and that "open water disposal" of the dredged material is likely to be necessary for years to come. The majority of dredging activities occurs in Connecticut and the dump sites are technically in that state's waters.
Besides dredging of rivers for recreational boating, ferries and water-borne commerce including fuel deliveries, Connecticut officials say there are national security interests in keeping waterways clear for the Naval Submarine Base and U.S. Coast Guard Academy, both in New London, Connecticut.
"Given the characteristics of our state and its coastline — Connecticut's dredging needs are vastly more significant than other states that share the benefits and beauty of Long Island Sound with us," Robert Klee, the state's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said at a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hearing last year.
George E. Wisker, an environmental analyst with Connecticut's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, argued that the sediments disposed of in the Sound are tested and dumping of toxic materials is not permitted. He conceded there may be low levels of contamination in some of the material, but argued none is defined as toxic.
Cuomo said New Yorkers would "agree to disagree" with their neighbors on the issue.
The Long Island has 600 miles of coastline, is 21 miles wide and 110 miles long and generates $9.4 billion for the economy of both states, according to a recent study. More than 23 million people live within 50 miles of its coast.