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Dredging Up a Load of Controversy

Thu, 02/27/2020 - 14:22

Pols decry equipment move to Mar-a-Lago

A federal Army Corps of Engineers official did not address why dredges and crews were being redirected from the Fire Island to Moriches Inlet Stabilization Project to a nonemergency project less than one mile from President Trump’s resort in Florida in response to an inquiry by The Star this week, saying only that the project would nonetheless be completed by the June 19 contracted completion deadline.     

Elected officials including Senator Charles Schumer and Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming called attention to the plan to divert dredges and crews from Long Island’s South Shore to Palm Beach, Fla., with Mr. Schumer writing to Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, the commanding general of the Army Corps, demanding that the dredges be returned to Fire Island as well as an explanation as to who directed the move and why.     

Weeks Marine, a maritime construction firm based in New Jersey, “is currently under contract with the Army Corps to perform emergency coastal restoration work as part of the Fire Island to Moriches Inlet Stabilization Project,” Mr. Schumer wrote to General Semonite. “As you are aware, FIMI was designed and implemented to provide coastal storm risk management in response to the damage wrought by Superstorm Sandy. The South Shore of Long Island and the communities on Fire Island still deal with the daily threat that the occurrence of another extreme weather event similar to the scale of Sandy could bring catastrophic levels of devastation. That is why the timely completion of coastal resiliency projects like FIMI is imperative and the sudden relocation of these dredges deserves scrutiny.”     

“The Weeks Marine dredges tasked with protecting Fire Island were recently redirected to Palm Beach County, Florida, for a sand placement project at Midtown Municipal Beach, a project the Army Corps’s Jacksonville District has characterized as a ‘nonemergency’ situation,” Mr. Schumer continued, citing media reports (The New York Post reported on Saturday that the Army Corps admitted that the Palm Beach project was not an emergency, after first stating that it was). “In response to that categorization, it is important for my office to better understand the justification used by USACE for redirecting dredges away from emergency coastal stabilization work to projects that are not deemed emergencies.”     

In a press conference on Sunday, Mr. Schumer said, “I pushed very hard to get dredging off the whole coast of Long Island, all the way from Montauk to Point Lookout. It’s desperately needed. We’ve had lots of storms, there are tens of thousands of homes that are at risk, and we got some dredging done.”     

“And all of a sudden, they pulled out the dredges . . . and put them at, of all places, Mar-a-Lago,” Mr. Trump’s resort. “So I have sent a letter to the head of the Army Corps, Lt. Gen. Semonite, asking him, number one, what is the justification, who ordered it, and to bring the dredges back. This really affects the South Shore of Long Island in a very dramatic way.”     

The Palm Beach post reported on Feb. 11 that officials from the Army Corps and the mayor and other Palm Beach officials had held a groundbreaking ceremony for a project in which 700,000 cubic yards of sand would be dredged from offshore and placed on a 2.8-mile stretch of beach. The project is to begin next week.   

“The work that is ongoing in New York and Florida is on schedule to be completed within contract durations” as awarded to Weeks Marine, James D’Ambrosio, an Army Corps public affairs specialist, said in an email yesterday. The Army Corps, he said, “is committed to completing all of these projects prior to the commencement of the Atlantic hurricane season.”     

Mr. D’Ambrosio did not address a question posed to him as to who had directed the dredges’ move from Long Island to Florida and why. “It’s within Weeks Marine’s contractual authority to reallocate their dredges,” he said. The company’s dredges are scheduled to return to New York in April to complete work at the Point O’ Woods and Ocean Bay Park portions of the Fire Island to Moriches Inlet project, he said.     

The Army Corps’s Jacksonville, Fla., district office did not respond to an inquiry seeking an explanation for the diversion of crews and equipment to Florida. There was also no reply to a call to Weeks Marine seeking comment.     

Katie Vincentz, a press contact for Mr. Zeldin, did not reply to an email from The Star. But Newsday reported that she said the Army Corps had told Mr. Zeldin that the work on Long Island could be completed ahead of the contracted completion deadline despite the redirection of the equipment and crews.     

Two who are vying for the Democratic Party’s nomination to challenge Mr. Zeldin in the November election were quick to draw attention to the situation.     

“Post-Sandy beach replacements on Fire Island have been put on hold so crews and dredges could be moved to work on a project near President Trump’s resort in Palm Beach,” Ms. Fleming wrote in an email on Sunday. “All that, and not a word from Lee Zeldin — the person whose job is supposed to be advocating for Long Islanders. Again, he’s refused to stand up for us in favor of bowing to the president’s every whim.”     

Mr. Zeldin, who served on Mr. Trump’s impeachment defense team, is one of the president’s most steadfast supporters in Congress.     

“The Army Corps of Engineers has been working to replenish the beaches on Fire Island ahead of the summer hurricane season,” Perry Gershon, an East Hampton resident who lost to Mr. Zeldin by four percentage points in the 2018 midterm elections, wrote in an email, also on Sunday. “The dredges working on Fire Island have been relocated to Palm Beach, Florida, near Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. The Army Corps has admitted to the N.Y. Post that the Mar-a-Lago work is not an emergency, despite earlier claims that it was.”     

“And worst of all?” Mr. Gershon continued. “Congressman Lee Zeldin is silent. Once again, he’s putting what Donald Trump wants ahead of what Long Island needs.” 

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