No timeline in place for dredging of Browns River

Environmental and economic concerns continue


The Town of Islip is moving forward on the effort to dredge Browns River Marinas West and East in Sayville and Bayport – but officials have not committed to a timeline for completion of the work.

“Removing the spoils from the site is a complex process... we are actively working with multiple agencies to move this project forward,” a town spokesperson said.

A town spokesperson said that Browns River is “a federally recognized navigation channel”; thus, the dredging of the river falls under the jurisdiction of the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

However, the town has hired engineering firm P.W. Grosser Consulting to remove dredge spoil. At a March 2020 town board meeting, officials approved an amendment with the firm to perform “necessary services” related to dredging the marinas at the Browns River estuary.

This amendment includes: preparation of a sediment sampling and analysis plan; collection and analysis of sediment samples; preparation of permit applications for submission to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the New York State Department of State; and preparation of bid specifications, bid analysis and construction inspection services, The Islip Bulletin previously reported.

It has been about 12 years since the estuary opening to the Great South Bay has been dredged, and it has produced some economic concerns from residents.

Marshall Brown, co-founder and former president of environmental nonprofit Save the Great South Bay, said between fishing, sea travel, real estate and more, the bay provides well over $100 billion in economic activity, making it worth the repair.

A retired Sayville ferry boat captain, who resides in West Sayville, said the dredging is long overdue. He said some boatmen are unable to move their vessels because the dredging has not been completed.

“On low tide, it’s impossible to get a boat out,” he said. Since many of the town’s boat slips have not been usable due to the lack of dredging, he predicts it’s resulted in a loss of revenue for the town, he said.

“Since it’s been so long, the river is more shallow than ever, with boat slips buried in silt and waters nearly unnavigable for ferries,” James Bertsch, Sayville Creek Defender for Save the Great South Bay, said. “Tourism is Long Island’s No. 1 industry, and Browns River is a vital commercial corridor for Greater Sayville... I’m eager to get our economy moving to ensure a better future.”

A town spokesperson said that the town is “concerned that residents are losing access to a town facility.” The town’s per-foot boat slip rate is $70 per foot for boats 24 feet and larger, and $65 per foot for boats 23 feet and smaller.

Moreover, the dredging delay has sparked environmental concern from the community.

Browns River is a “major contributor” to poor water quality in the bay, Brown said: its watershed consists of suburban lawns, road runoff and cesspools, resulting in poor quality, added Brown.

Robyn Silvestri, executive director of Save the Great South Bay, said that the bay will only be as healthy as the water that flows through it. Creeks that are blocked from stormwater runoff or silts need to be cleared so water can flow freely.

“The bay is just a symptom of what’s happening here on the mainland: the overdevelopment, the overuse of nitrogen fertilizers,” Silvestri said.

Municipalities looking to dredge often hit a roadblock in finding the appropriate location to dump the spoil, Brown said. “It’s very much spurred by a series of regulations that don’t have any easy means to combat financially,” he said, noting that most entities have their own set of regulations.

The DEC works with municipalities and contractors to determine where dredge spoil can be disposed of to be protective of human health and the environment.

Several samples must be taken to determine the appropriate disposal of this material. Depending on contaminant levels, the material may need to be placed at an onor off-island disposal site.

Brown said he strongly advocates for a unified, comprehensive plan to address the bay. He encourages county and town officials to explore marsh replenishment as a solution for the spoils. Since April, he’s been advocating to federal, state and county officials to push for a localized approach of mobilizing.

“I think we should look to think big and say, ‘We need to put our whole army to work here to repair the local community’s ponds, rivers and forests.’ Browns River can and should be part of that,” Brown said. “This is a generation’s worth of work.”


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