Protecting Our Communities’ Maritime Infrastructure
Op-ed by Congressman Lee Zeldin
In a district nearly completely surrounded by water, we have a unique responsibility to safeguard our local waterways, from improving our area’s water quality to bolstering our local maritime infrastructure. Since coming to Congress, I’ve worked with Commander of the New York District of the Army Corps of Engineers Colonel Thomas Asbery and his incredible team to secure desperately needed victories for our Congressional District, whether it’s moving the Fire Island to Montauk Point (FIMP) plan closer to implementation or securing emergency east end projects.
Last year, a series of unprecedented storms pummeled area waterways and significantly worsened navigation conditions, leaving Moriches Inlet effectively impassable. I went out to the inlet to see these dangerous conditions firsthand, and was joined by fishermen, business owners and other stakeholders in calling for an emergency dredge. Working with the Army Corps of Engineers and others at every level of government, I secured the approval and $12 million in federal funding needed to undertake this emergency dredge. Equally as important, the dredged sand was placed at Smith Point County Park where it was used to widen the beach, strengthen the dunes and defend the beach against future storms.
These unprecedented winter storms left so many waterways in dangerous navigational conditions, including Wickham Creek on the North Fork. However, dredging of Wickham Creek is prohibited between January 1st and September 31st, but with the summer approaching, the condition of Wickham Creek was a safety hazard to recreational and commercial boaters alike. I secured an extension of the dredging period to restore safe navigational conditions for local residents right in time for summer.
Already this year, multiple storms have caused severe damage to the dunes along the ocean side all along our shores and, most significantly, led to severe flooding and a near breach of the barrier island just west of Shinnecock Inlet where many small businesses and jobs are located, including the second largest commercial dock in New York State. Last week, I joined Suffolk County officials to survey the latest damage and discuss available options for federal assistance regarding appropriate operation authority, funding and the availability of dredges and equipment.
In addition to calling on the Army Corps to utilize any emergency authority available to assist, my team and I have been in frequent contact with the Army Corps regarding any and all possibilities to strengthen the dunes as soon as possible.
Of course, we can’t jump from emergency to emergency only acting when we have no other choice, which, in addition to focusing on strengthening jetties and enacting other permanent fixes, is why I’ve prioritized maintenance dredging and projects that bolster our dunes and berms and prevent damage. Farther west on Dune Road in Westhampton Beach, the start of beach renourishment along the ocean side has begun. That project, which is 65% federal funded, is expected to relocate an estimated 1.2 million cubic yards of sand which will create a protective beach berm and dune, providing protection for Westhampton Beach and affected mainland communities of Moriches Bay.
In addition to continuing to advance the Fire Island to Montauk Point (FIMP) project to combat beach erosion and bolster storm protection, I also secured a dredge of the Long Island Intracoastal Waterway to restore it to its 6-foot depth and place sand at Webby Beach to extend the length of the beach and combat erosion, as well as at Smith Point County Park and Great Gun Beach.
On the North Fork, I secured nearly half a million dollars in federal funding for the Cedar Beach Creek Habitat Restoration Demonstration Project, which restores local essential ecosystem functions in the degraded marsh system. Since 1930, significant marsh loss and degradation from erosion and past filling activities have occurred. Completion of this project will greatly enhance the 65-acre marsh and beach complex at Cedar Beach Creek. The project will restore and create 19.5 acres of salt marsh and marsh islands through the beneficial use of clean dredged material, create new oyster reefs and 1.7 acres of new seagrass meadow, improve 3 acres of new open water habitat through increased and improved flushing and revitalize the entire 65 acre marsh, beach, and open water mosaic. This project will establish and enhance three critical marine habitats in the Peconic Estuary which is an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated Estuary of National Significance.
Our area waterways are vital arteries for our vibrant coastal economy of marinas, restaurants, recreational boaters, commercial fishermen, and all of the small businesses that support these industries. Whether it’s along the north or south shore or at Reel Point in Shelter Island, there’s still a lot of work left to do. The hundreds of miles of coastline that comprise our shores have been forever ingrained in the culture and livelihoods of Long Islanders, and continuing to safeguard and invest in our maritime infrastructure will preserve our way of life for generations to come.
Congressman Lee Zeldin serves as Co-Chair of the bipartisan Long Island Sound Caucus and member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus.