Dredging Up Trouble
The Army Corps of Engineer and the U.S. EPA are holding hearings things week on the issue. Here's how Judy Benson, of the New London Day, summarizes the environmental side of things:
Dredge spoils can contain hazardous materials such as heavy metals that become mixed into the waters of Long Island Sound when excavated from one site and dumped in another. The dumped material can also end up on beaches and affect marine wildlife.
Leah Schmaltz, director of legislative and legal affairs for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment and its sister organization, Save the Sound, said her group recognizes that while there will probably always be some need for open-water dumping of dredge spoils, it would like to see the amount reduced.
“We'd like to look to a future where dumping is minimal,” she said.
The water quality of Long Island Sound, an ecologically important estuary, is compromised when sediments in dredge material are dumped, she said. Alternatives that should be considered include depositing the material in specially dug pits, on-land dumpsites and reuse for beaches and other areas that need fill. In many cases, contaminants in the dredge spoils would not be as environmentally harmful in an upland setting as they would in open water, she said.
Another environmental group that has been active in the dredging issue is the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. Adrienne Esposito, the group's executive director, said dredge spoils need not always be treated as a waste product. Some dredge spoils, she said, can be used to fill abandoned coal mines, for example. The material can also be used as an ingredient in cement, locking up any contaminants.
“It can be a raw material. It just needs to be shipped,” she said. “But in Long Island Sound, it's a pollutant. It's released into the food chain.”
The challenge, she said, would be to create a market for dredge materials to offset the costs of the shipping.
I stared out by saying I remember this debate being at least 25 years old. Those involved now may or may not take comfort in knowingthat in fact it's far older:Between 1765 and 1821, New Haven was forced to extend its main wharf more than 3900 feet into its bay to stay ahead of the mud which would otherwise have prevented ships from landing. And yet ... there was "less water a few rods from its foot" in 1821 than there had been at the end of the much shorter wharf in 1765.
That's from William Cronon's Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England, which came out in 1983.