Ready, get set, uh-oh: All the ducks are lined up for the much needed and long delayed dredging of Three Mile Harbor. The required permits are in place except for one expected shortly from the Army Corps of Engineers. The piping plovers have long since mated, so there is no longer a delay on their behalf, and winter flounder have months before they spawn.
The dredge is set to be in place by the end of the month. In other words, the hang-ups that have bedeviled the project since 2007 seemed to have been smoothed out. But then last week . . .
“The county sent out requests for easements to the people at Sammy’s Beach, about 15 residents,” said Larry Penny, East Hampton’s director of natural resources. “The answers were no.”
The dredging is a project of the County Department of Public Works. It calls for as much as 80,000 cubic yards of sand to be removed from the harbor inlet as well as from around town-owned and private marinas at its south end.
Mr. Penny said the residents objected to easements over their properties that would be required. The dredged material is to be piped along Sammy’s Beach and placed on town-owned land below the mean high tide, where it would be allowed to accumulate and “dewater.” However, if there is more sand dredged up than expected, the pipe would have to cross private property.
“There’s a possibility they [the contractor] can put all the sand on the town beach, not like on top like in 1999,” Mr. Penny said. He was referring to the last comprehensive dredging of the harbor which resulted in a huge hole being dug into town-owned dunes and an equally large pile simply left in place. Residents and environmentalists complained.
This time around the idea is to put at least some of the sand, which is expected to be clean, nearer the water to help build up the beach. It also has been suggested that a portion of the material can be trucked to other sites that suffer erosion.
Peter Mendelman, the vice president of Seacoast Enterprises Associates, which operates three marinas on Three Mile Harbor and is a member of the harbor management committee of the East Hampton Town Trustees, said this week that the State Department of Environmental Conservation had approved the plan to nourish the beach.
He urged property owners to grant the easements.
“It’s going to go between mean high and mean low, super clean sand from the northern end of the harbor. I think this is all a failure in communication,” he said.
He added that the request for easements had seemed to suggest that they were for the long term. Instead, the easements would be “just for the duration of the project.” Mr. Mendelman said that while Sammy’s Beach did not now have an erosion problem, a northeast winter storm could change that. “Elsewhere in town people are paying tens of thousands of dollars for sand,” Mr. Mendelman said.
The proposed dredging at the harbor’s southern end has raised a separate issue. The original plan called for pilings to be removed from the docks at the Three Mile Harbor Boat Yard and Three Mile Marina so the channel leading to their docks could be dredged — an expensive and unpopular condition.
On Monday, Gill Anderson, the commissioner of public works, said a compromise was being worked out. “If worse comes to worst, we could reduce the width of dredging. The problem is, that area becomes [shoaled] up quickest,” he said. Mr. Mendelman said that even if the dredging were narrowed, the channel would be at least 100 feet wide.
Mr. Mendelman pointed out that the southern end of the harbor had not been dredged in 30 years, which has resulted in at least five groundings a year. The dredging would take place from the town dock and launching ramps at the head of the harbor west to the main channel and then north out past where the harbor opens up north of Marina Lane. He said it would dramatically improve tidal flushing, a plus for eelgrass and shellfish populations.
Because material dredged from the harbor’s southern end might contain contaminants, it will be stored at a town disposal site on Marina Lane. The Gibson and Cushman Contracting company of Bay Shore will dredge the main channel to a depth of 12 feet and do dredging 8 feet farther south than previously. The dredge is expected to arrive in three to four weeks, according to the commissioner.
Montauk Work Begins
Meanwhile, the dredging of the Montauk Harbor Inlet, pushed forward from its original 2013 start date by safety concerns, is set to begin this month. Staging began this week. The $414,590 project will remove between 15,000 and 20,000 cubic yards of material from the channel, and is expected to be finished by the end of the year.
The schedule was changed following a series of severe storms starting early this year. Federal, state, and local officials stressed the importance of adequate access to the harbor for Montauk’s Coast Guard vessels fishing fleet.
The Army Corps of Engineers New York District awarded that contract to the North America Landscaping, Construction, and Dredge Company of Ellicott City, Md. The contract includes the “beneficial reuse of the dredged sand” by placing it along the shore just west of the west jetty in the Soundview section of Montauk.
A separate “feasibility” study by the Army Corps in cooperation with the State Department of Environmental Conservation is under way to find a long-term solution to the severe erosion there. Ways to keep sand on the Soundview beaches, perhaps via the construction of a series of rock groins, is an aim of the study, to be completed next year.