Inlet Channel Moved; Bishop Says Dredging Still Needed

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The U.S. Coast Guard this week moved several buoys that mark the navigation channel leading through Shinnecock Inlet into the open ocean. The new route is intended to guide boats through deeper water in hopes of minimizing the chance of one striking bottom.

After numerous complaints from commercial fishermen and the grounding of the fishing vessel North Sea last month, U.S. Representative Tim Bishop asked the Army Corps of Engineers to survey the channel to determine what could be done to make it safer and more navigable. The survey revealed that the deepest part of the channel had shifted outside the path marked by the buoys.

The buoys now mark a route that follows a 13-foot-deep and 200-foot-wide channel, which is 3 feet deeper than the old route. Mr. Bishop said he still plans to pursue funding for another round of dredging within the inlet and through the offshore sandbar—a project that is expected to cost upward of $10 million to complete, according to preliminary estimates.

But for the time being, the newly remarked channel should make it easier for larger fishing boats to navigate the famously treacherous inlet.

“This adds three feet to the marked route, which we hope helps the fishermen out,” Mr. Bishop said. “It will help, but it is not the final answer. We continue to believe that the inlet needs to be dredged.”

Shinnecock Inlet was dredged in 1990, 1992 and again in 1998. It was most recently dredged in 2004 when an estimated 300,000 cubic yards of sand and silt were removed. Fishermen have been saying for years that the inlet and sandbar at its mouth need to be dredged again. The sand from a dredging project could also be used to replenish eroded beaches to the west of the inlet.

But the Army Corps has refused to schedule any dredging projects until the long awaited Fire Island to Montauk Reformulation Study—more than 20 years in the making—is completed. The study, already nearly a decade behind schedule and repeatedly hampered by funding cuts, is supposed to be completed next fall. It is expected to include recommendations for a more permanent fix to the problems created by the inlet, namely the diversion of sand to the offshore bar rather than the erosion plagued beaches to its west. One proposal would have a mechanized hydraulic suction system installed at the county parks on either side of the inlet to force sand past the inlet.

In the late 1980s, five boats sank and three fishermen died in Shinnecock Inlet. In 1992 the Army Corps conducted a major reconstruction of the inlet’s jetties, a project that was intended to make the inlet more stable and cleared a path through the offshore sandbar. The bar was dredged again in 1998 and most recently in 2004, but the shoal returned and has again made the inlet treacherous.

In August 2004 the fishing boat Providence capsized and sank while trying to cross the sandbar at the mouth of the inlet—its crew was rescued by two teenage boys on Jet Skis. Last month the North Sea—owned by the same fisherman who owned Providence—went aground near the mouth of the inlet and stuck fast for nearly three hours in stormy conditions.

Mr. Bishop said the grounding of the North Sea highlighted the need for the Army Corps to resurvey of the channel.

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