A critical project to dredge the Jones Beach Inlet will receive $19 million in funding in President Joe Biden's proposed 2022 budget but red tape could push the work back to 2023, according to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer.
Schumer (D-N.Y.) joined boaters and other elected officials in Lido Beach on Thursday to urge the Army Corps of Engineers to speed up the dredging process, citing the sand-clogged inlet's dangerous conditions — which could be compounded by a predicted above-normal upcoming hurricane season.
"Cut the red tape," Schumer said, noting that boating is critical to the South Shore's tourism and economy. "We need this ASAP."
John McMurray, a charter boat captain in Oceanside, was injured in December when a wave crashed into his vessel on a sandbar. McMurray tore every muscle in his arm and was out of work for three months.
"It is very dangerous," he said. "It's scary for someone that's been a recreational boater, as well as a small-business owner running charters for 20 years. I can't imagine what it looks like for a novice boater."
Schumer and Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) wrote to Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, chief of engineers and commanding general of the Army Corps, asking the agency to allocate emergency funds to begin work on the Inlet. Schumer said those funds would be returned to the corps once the budget is passed.
The Army Corps must still draw up plans for the dredging, bid and award a contract and begin the work — which takes about 90 days — while avoiding scheduling any work during the May to September nesting period of endangered piping plovers. If the corps misses the window for work that will start this fall, dredging would have to wait another year, officials said.
"This is an emergency," said State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, who requested the Corps dredge the Inlet last year after a 27-foot Angler fishing boat capsized, killing two people. "It needs to happen right away."
John Costa drowned when his boat overturned on May 2, 2020, as he attempted to navigate rough seas at Point Lookout. The body of Joseph Sparacio of Farmingdale, who was also on Costa's boat when it capsized, washed ashore in Breezy Point more than three weeks later.
Like other Long Island inlets from Montauk to Moriches, the Jones Inlet — a major waterway between Nassau bays and the Atlantic Ocean — can become sand-clogged.
In recent years, the channel has become increasingly difficult to navigate, with many boaters afraid of bottoming out or capsizing during inclement weather. During low tide, heavy winds can create deadly waves that can curl and flip a boat.
Jones Beach Inlet was last dredged in 2014.
"We have been overdue ever since [Superstorm] Sandy," said Christopher Squeri, a Freeport Village trustee and executive director of Marine Trades Association. "The breakers are just getting worse and worse. There are a lot of days where boats cannot travel through it."