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US Supreme Court clears way for dredging disposal site in Long Island Sound, boon to CT maritime industry

View of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

The U.S. Supreme Court has eliminated a challenge to billions of dollars of Connecticut military and commercial shipping interests by clearing the way for a new disposal site in eastern Long Island Sound for potentially hazardous materials dredged  from state harbors to maintain them for navigation.

The court’s decision not to hear yet another appeal from New York puts an end to decades of litigation between that state and Connecticut, principally over the disposal of dredged spoils from New London Harbor and the Thames River, which require periodic channel clearing to accommodate the submarines built at the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics and berthed at the U.S. Naval Submarine Base in Groton.

At a time when the Navy is pouring record sums into new submarine construction programs, Connecticut is also spending hundreds of millions of dollars more to make New London Harbor, with its easy access to the North Atlantic, the supply depot for the offshore wind energy industry.

New Haven and Bridgeport also have harbors, prone to silting, with commercially valuable maritime industries.

New York, with maritime interests on Long Island that consist primarily of recreation and commercial fishing, has long opposed harbor dredging across the sound, contending that dredged spoils from New London, which the court said can now be disposed of offshore in the east end of the Sound, contain potentially toxic elements hazardous to marine life.

Connecticut and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, both on the winning side of the decision, have argued for years that plans for the eastern disposal site are safe and meet environmental standards.

“This is the outcome we’ve been waiting for to protect southeastern Connecticut’s maritime economy and the Long Island Sound region,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, the Democrat who represented the states Second District.

“The eastern Long Island Sound site was designated after painstaking work by federal, state, and local stakeholders to come up with sensible ways to safely manage dredged materials in the Long Island Sound. The prolonged legal fight over this issue has only created uncertainty for our ports, harbors, marinas, and our region’s submarine industrial base,” he said.

Attorney General William Tong intervened in the case, for the state, defending the a disposal site chosen by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after years environmental review and public input. A federal judge in New York first upheld the selection site in July 2020. A federal appeals court affirmed the decision in September and the Supreme Court refused to take New York’s last appeal on Monday.

“Today’s decision ends years of litigation and delay over a matter vitally important to Connecticut’s maritime economy,” Tong said. “Thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue rely on the ability to dredge and safely deposit materials. The Eastern Long Island site was selected after exhaustive review and public input. It’s well past time to get this work underway.”

New York, after initial opposition, agreed previously on the establishment of dredge spoil disposal sites in the western and central Sound. There had been two eastern Sound disposal sites, one off New London and one near Cornfield Shoals, but they were intended to be temporary.

The federal appellate decision released Friday upholds the EPA’s approval of a new site that would comprise the western half of the existing New London site and two new adjacent areas to its west.

Supporting establishment of an eastern Sound site were Electric Boat, the Connecticut Port Authority, the Connecticut Harbor Management Association and Cross Sound Ferry, which runs points to Orient Point on Long Island and to Block Island. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees dredging projects, has said that without dredging, the ability to launch and build submarines in Groton “would be eliminated.”

Tong said any disposal of dredged materials will require a full review of environmental impacts and must comply with Connecticut’s Water Quality Standards.


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