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Apr 29, 2009 12:40 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Federal stimulus will fund inlet dredging

Apr 29, 2009 12:40 PM

The federal government, through its economic stimulus efforts, will kick another $5 million in for the dredging of Shinnecock Inlet next winter, restoring the dangerously shallow channel that commercial fishing boats use to pass through the inlet.

The money will be added to $3.2 million already included in the 2009 federal budget, bringing the federal share of the project funding to $8.2 million. U.S. Representative Tim Bishop requested that the new money be added to the multibillion-dollar federal stimulus package, officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, approved by Congress earlier this year. The earmarks were approved by the White House this week.

“The safety of our waterways requires continual vigilance and maintenance,” said Mr. Bishop, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “This recovery funding will support local jobs while ensuring that the Shinnecock Inlet remains safe for vessels for years to come.”

The total cost of the dredging is estimated by the Army Corps of Engineers, who would do the actual dredging, at more than $11 million. Mr. Bishop initially requested that some $6.4 million for the project be included in the 2009 budget. The funding was approved by the House Appropriations Committee, but then scaled back in the final version of the bill.

In lieu of full federal funding, New York State will have to fund another $3.2 million for the dredging.

The dredging project would clear a 10-foot-deep, 200-foot-wide, three-quarter-mile-long channel from the north end of the inlet through the offshore sandbar that crosses the mouth of the inlet. The sand taken out of the inlet channel will be deposited on the beaches to the west of the inlet.

The project could begin as early as next fall.

“This project is very important to the safety of all boaters and the preservation of jobs for our commercial and recreational fishing fleet,” said Scott Horowitz, president of the Shinnecock Marlin and Tuna Club. “Fishing has been a mainstay of this area and this project will make sure that continues to be the case for many years to come. I am very proud to be able to work on this with Congressman Bishop and welcome this great news.”

The channel has been plagued by shoaling problems for decades. Because the natural flow of sand along the South Shore is interrupted by the jetties protecting the inlet, a sandbar forms across the mouth of the inlet. The shoaling can create dangerous breaking waves outside the inlet mouth and force commercial boats to enter or exit the inlet only at the high tides. The main channel to the inlet was last dredged in 2004.

In the late 1980s, five boats sank and three fishermen died in Shinnecock Inlet. In 1992 the Army Corps conducted a major reconstruction of the inlet’s jetties, a project that was intended to make the inlet more stable and cleared a path through the offshore sandbar. The bar was dredged again in 1998 and most recently in 2004, but the shoal returned and has again made the inlet treacherous.

In August 2004, the fishing boat Providence capsized and sank while trying to cross the sandbar at the mouth of the inlet. Its crew was rescued by two teenage boys on Jet Skis. Last year, the North Sea—owned by the same fisherman who owned Providence—went aground near the mouth of the inlet and stuck fast for nearly three hours in stormy conditions.

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