The Browns River in Sayville is a critical federal waterway that feeds into the Great South Bay. There are numerous businesses located on the river, including the Sayville Ferry Service, which ferries hundreds of thousands of visitors, residents, and emergency services personnel to and from communities on Fire Island annually. These businesses and the many boaters who use the river rely on its safe navigability. The best way to ensure the safe navigability of the Browns River is by regular dredging. Unfortunately, it has been 17 years since the river was last dredged—a decade longer than the eight-year period experts recommend the river should be dredged. Waiting this long to dredge raises safety, economic, and environmental concerns.
First, when properly dredged, the river is wide enough for two boats, including the ferry, to pass one another in the channel. However, the sediment along the water’s edge has gotten so high that only one lane—directly in the middle of the waterway—is deep enough for a boat to safely navigate the river. It is no longer safe nor feasible for boats to pass one another; they must instead wait their turn.
Second, without dredging, the local businesses along the river and those that rely on use of the river will continue to suffer. Businesses—including the Town of Islip—are losing revenue by failing to be able to use and rent their boat slips as their slips are filled with sediment. In fact, one business that had a significant marina on the river had to have its taxable status reassessed, as it could no longer be considered a “marina” since it could no longer have boats moor at its site. Further, businesses and residences on Fire Island rely on boats to bring supplies to it and to remove solid waste from the island. Without dredging, those on Fire Island will no longer be able to import the supplies they need or remove the garbage and waste they produce.
Finally, regular dredging helps improve the circulation of water flow, which helps generate more oxygen in the water, which helps aquatic species and plants thrive. Dredging also removes the top layer of silt, which has the greatest concentration of decaying material, such as dead plants, fish, animals and garbage, all of which is detrimental to the overall water quality. Most importantly, dredging the decaying material will help lower nitrogen levels in the water, which are already high in the Sayville area. To preserve the environmental stability of the river, it must be dredged.
Dredging the Browns River has been complicated by the fact that it is a federal waterway, so the Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for dredging. The Army Corps can only begin the work if the Town of Islip and Suffolk County have an appropriate “spoil site” to deposit the dredged materials. And the state must approve all the necessary permitting to do the dredging and spoil-site work. Thus, every level of government must not only ensure it has the funding to do its required steps, but each level must work together to move the project forward.
Over the past several weeks, I convened a meeting with all stakeholders to see that emergency dredging gets done, and all of us agree this must be done now. Two weeks ago, I hosted a press conference attended by dozens of local elected officials, business owners, environmentalists and community advocates, all of whom know that action on this river cannot wait. Now I am calling on you in the community to let your voice be heard on this critical issue.
I have started a petition calling on emergency dredging to be done now. The petition can be accessed on my website www.weik.nysenate.gov, and I encourage you to sign on.
In the meantime, I will continue to zealously advocate that this project gets done.
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