NY pols call for quick dredging of 'dangerously shallow waters' in Jones Inlet

Mark Harrington & John Asbury for Newsday

Originally published in Newsday

Three New York lawmakers cited "dangerously shallow waters" in Jones Inlet in requesting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expedite a plan to dredge the waterway before this year's boating season instead of in the fall.

In a letter Tuesday, U.S. Sens Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, cited an "urgent need" to clear the widely used inlet, which has experienced increased shoaling and led to at least one boater mishap tied to the deaths of two passengers.

"We strongly urge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to immediately undertake all appropriate measures necessary to dredge Jones Inlet … before summer of 2022," the lawmakers wrote, saying "dangerously shallow waters in this critical gateway are forcing" boaters to remain "inside the bay."

Nassau has around 32,000 registered boaters, 20 commercial partyboats and eight commercial trawlers, the lawmakers noted, advocating for the City of Long Beach and Town of Hempstead.

Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin joined with Schumer last year to urge the federal government to streamline emergency dredging.

"The dredging of Jones Inlet is an important project to help improve boater safety and protect the local ecosystem of this seaside community," Clavin said.

Conditions at the inlet have reduced water depths at the critical passageway to around three feet, they said. "During periods of low tide, storms or heavy winds can quickly create deadly waves capable of curling and capsizing any boat." They cited a May 2020 mishap when a recreational boat flipped over due to the inlet's condition, killing two passengers.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) said the inlet, which was previously dredged every six years, hadn't been scoured since 2014.

"It's very overdue. The lack of action is extremely concerning and it shouldn't take another death to get the federal government moving," Kaminsky said. "It's a pivotal chokepoint and anyone on South Shore waters knows it’s critical. When the wind blows the right way, the waves are furious and it can be treacherous."

Schumer, Rice and Gillibrand also cited potential economic impacts of limited access through the inlet.

"Many large commercial fishing boats that attract customers by going out of the ocean must now remain inside the bay, leaving their passengers with fewer opportunities to catch fish big enough to keep," they wrote, adding some "may be forced to close."

A spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps didn't immediately provide a comment in response to the letter.

The effort to dredge the inlet has been led by Mike Jacobs, an Wantagh fishermen who started a Facebook page to drum up support and has been imploring officials to dredge the inlet before this year's boating season.

"Jones Inlet has been deemed impassable due to shoaling and dangerous waves breaking right in the middle of the red and green buoys," he wrote in a recent email blast. "The buoys set out by the Coast Guard/Army Corps of Engineers are useless and an absolute threat to any boat navigating that inlet."

Jacobs noted that the inlet wasn't scheduled for dredging until October at the earliest. "That means it will not be ready for boats to navigate through the inlet until the spring of 2023," he wrote. "What that also means is Jones Inlet will basically be closed to boating traffic for the entire year of 2022."