An EPA decision to create a dumping ground for dredged materials off of New London in the eastern Long Island Sound – which has locked Connecticut and New York in a years-long legal fight – was justified, a federal court ruled on Friday.
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong hailed the decision from the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals as a victory for Connecticut, which has argued that the ability to dump dredged materials in the eastern sound is crucial to the state’s maritime economy.
Tong said he was hopeful the court’s decision could close the litigation with New York over the disposal site that would serve as a depository for the sediment and debris dug up from dredging the shipping channels, rivers, ports and harbors along the sound.
“This is a full and complete victory for Connecticut’s maritime economy,” Tong said in a statement. “Thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue depend on the ability to dredge and safely deposit materials.”
The US Army Corps of Engineers estimated in 2016 that over the next 30 years, 20.2 million cubic yards of dredged materials would need to be dumped in the eastern Sound. The same year, two temporary disposal sites in the area were set to closed, spurring EPA to designate a permanent site to replace them, according to the judgment.
New York had opposed the creation of a permanent dumping site in the eastern Sound, and sued the EPA in 2017, alleging that it was “arbitrary and capricious” for the EPA to designate a new site in the eastern Sound rather than relying on two existing sites in the western Sound, and that the agency didn’t adequately consider the site’s impact on the environment or navigation in the Sound, according to the judgment.
Connecticut joined the lawsuit on the side of the EPA, arguing the site was necessary for the state’s maritime industry. And the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York upheld the EPA’s decision in July 2020. New York appealed to the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which also upheld EPA designating the eastern disposal site in a ruling issued on Friday.
When it selected the site in 2016, the EPA said that necessary dredging in the area wouldn’t be possible without an open-water disposal site for dredged material in the eastern Long Island Sound.
Other “viable” methods of managing dredged materials – such as upland disposal or “beneficial use” like land remediation or beach restoration – don’t have the capacity to handle all the material from necessary dredging projects, and those projects would become too expensive as a result, EPA found.
A collection of Connecticut groups – including Electric Boat, Cross Sound Ferry, Connecticut Marine Trades Association and Connecticut Port Authority – pleaded in a brief for the court to allow the eastern Long Island site to be used for dumping dredged materials, saying the consequences for Connecticut’s maritime economy would otherwise be dire.
Those groups argued that the maritime industry depends on its ability to access and navigate waterways, which becomes impossible without dredging. Without access to “cost-effective and environmentally appropriate” options for disposing of dredged materials, that access would be at risk, they argued.
According to advocates of the site, within 20 years, a halt to dredging because of a lack of disposal options would cost Connecticut $398 million in economic production in an industry that contributes $2.7 billion to the state’s economic output – including income losses of $7.4 million to recreational boating and $11 million to freight transportation.
“A dredge slow down or stoppage due to the lack of a practical disposal option in eastern LIS will impact the entire maritime sector on an escalating basis with the greatest economic harm to fishing, ship and boating building/repairing and marinas,” they said.