Moriches Inlet dredging is running behind schedule

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So much for the winter flounder.

A major dredging and beach replenishment project that is running behind schedule will likely overlap with the spawning and breeding times of the winter flounder, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy has announced. The replenishment project is necessary in order to prevent massive erosion to the east and west of Moriches Inlet and protect costal properties.

“We’re fairly certain that we’re going to be able to move this important dredging project forward,” Mr. Levy said. “That sand is very valuable in order for us to restore our beachfronts.”

The $11 million federally funded project calls for the dredging of the Moriches Inlet and the redistribution of that sand to replenish both Smith Point Beach and Cupsogue Beach in Westhampton. The county’s Illinois-based contractor, Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company, was scheduled to begin hauling more than 460,000 cubic yards of sand from the inlet on December 1.

Mr. Levy said the contractor was delayed by “high winds” in Georgia. He said the company will be arriving on Long Island with the necessary equipment by December 20. The company’s fleet is made up of 27 boats for dredging, two drill boats and 191 other support boats. Company representatives did not return calls for comment.

The DEC was on board with extending the January 15 deadline for the project, despite its possible impact on endangered species. “That’s the impression Deputy [County Executive] James Morgo got in conversations with the DEC,” Mr. Levy said.

DEC Regional Director Peter Scully and spokeswoman Aphrodite Montalvo confirmed the DEC was considering extending the company’s dredging permit, which is currently set to expire on January 15, at the start of the winter flounder spawning season.

“There is a dredge window in place in the permit where the activity is allowed to take place so they are not dredging during the spawning season for the winter flounder,” a fin fish whose population has been decimated due to declining plankton levels in the Moriches Bay, Mr. Scully said. “We are now looking at other alternatives to save the project.”

The inlet was last dredged in February 2004. In that project, about 250,250 cubic yards of sand were removed and redistributed along Fire Island National Seashore.

The inlet was targeted for dredging this year due in part to its proximity to the Forge River, which is northwest of the inlet. The Forge River has been the focus of environmental restoration efforts in recent years because of its consistently low oxygen levels and water quality.

U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, who helped secure the federal funding for the dredging project, has said opening up the inlet could increase the flow of fresh water to the Forge River, helping restore water quality. In addition, dredging the inlet could have an added benefit of making the inlet more navigable for boaters.

Will Jenkins, a spokesman for the congressman, warned that the county could be in danger of losing the federal funding if the project is not finished within the next several months. He said in an e-mail, however, that Mr. Bishop is optimistic the county will finish the project on time.

“He trusts that the state DEC and the county will be able to execute the project within the required time frame,” Mr. Jenkins said of Mr. Bishop.

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