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EPA’s Long Island waste site gets appellate OK

The Long Island Sound, where much of "The Great Gatsby" takes place, would get a third waste disposal site for dredging efforts under the court-supported federal plan.

MANHATTAN (CN) — An appeals court sided with a federal plan to build a waste-disposal site on the Long Island Sound, thwarting efforts to stop the project brought by New York state and the town set to host the site.

At issue was the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to dispose of dredging waste in the eastern portion of the sound, an estuary that sits between New York, Connecticut and Long Island, extending more than 100 miles. 

New York state officials resisted, telling a federal judge for the Eastern District of New York that the project violated marine protection, ocean dumping and coastal zone-management laws. 

Affirming defeat for that challenge, however, the Second Circuit concluded Friday that that the EPA’s actions were not arbitrary and capricious since the Coastal Zone Management Act doesn’t provide standards of its own. 

Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Debra Livingston wrote the 42-page opinion on behalf of the panel, joined by U.S. Circuit Judges Susan Carney and Joseph Bianco. 

Livingston began with a bit of history, quoting the iconic novel, "The Great Gatsby." In the book, F. Scott Fitzgerald describes Long Island as “that slender riotous island which extends itself due east of New York,” along the northern edge of which lies "the most domesticated body of salt water in the Western hemisphere, the great wet barnyard of Long Island Sound.”

Dredging helps to maintain the more than 200 harbors, coves, bays and navigable rivers around the Long Island Sound. Its byproducts can be used to mitigate other human and environmental interests — bolstering beaches that have eroded, building wetlands and covering up landfills. 

Less useful sediment stirred up in the process is gotten rid of in open water, a controversial process since the materials may be contaminated with industrial or agricultural toxins.  

New York had argued that western and central dredging locations were sufficient without need for an eastern zone; that certain waste materials are environmentally harmful; that the EPA’s consistency determination was off; and that the agency unreasonably used restrictions based on those other two preexisting sites. 

In a separate brief, the town of Southold argued that the EPA did not conduct an adequate Environmental Impact Statement and that its designation conflicted with Southold’s coastal management program aimed at protecting coastal fish and wildlife habitats. 

The court accepted as adequate the EPA’s rebuttal that “the site would not have significant adverse effects on marine habitat,” and that the new site’s boundaries “exclude rocky, hardbottom areas that could provide relatively higher quality habitat for marine organisms.”

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation told Courthouse News it is reviewing Friday's decision. The town of Southold did not immediately return a request for comment.

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