New Haven is prepared to go to bat for Morris Cove residents fighting a battle against toxic waste.
At a rally of nearly 100 people Saturday at Pardee Seawall in Morris Cove in New Haven, state and local legislators assured angry residents that everything possible was being done to prevent the harbor from becoming the storage site for dredged material from Bridgeport Harbor. Morris Cove is a residential area with public marinas and swimming areas.
The dredging plan, issued by the Army Corps of Engineers earlier this year, involves depositing almost 200,000 cubic yards of material the Corps considers unsuitable for open water disposal in the New Haven harbor. According to Judi Sheiffele, executive director of the New Haven Port Authority, the dredged material will be transferred to an underwater pit in Morris Cove, allowed to settle, then covered with “suitable material” that is free of toxic contaminants. Residents protested by wearing “NO” stickers, holding posters by the road, and applauding statements including “They can’t do this do us” and “Toxic is toxic.”
“This is about the whole city, not just Morris Cove,” said Mayor John DeStefano Jr., voicing his support for protestors at the rally.
DeStefano said the city of New Haven is prepared to use legal action to prevent the Corps from depositing the toxic material in the Cove. Morris Cove is New Haven’s easternmost neighborhood and is a residential area with public marinas and swimming areas.
Still, the Corps said it did not come up with this plan without due consideration of its impacts.
“We evaluated several different alternatives,” said Mike Keegan, project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers. Morris Cove was targeted as a storage site because of engineering feasibility, environmental acceptance, and economic viability, explained Keegan.
But New Haven officials said the plan may negatively affect the cove.
“Everybody understands the need to have Bridgeport dredged, the only opposition is to bring the material here,” said Sheiffele. “The problem down the road is that there will be a need to identify places to put this material to keep boats in our harbors.”
Sheiffele added that it is in the interests of the New Haven port to preserve the space in the Morris Cove pit to store material from New Haven’s own dredging projects.
But Morris Cove residents aren’t impressed with the plan. A dozen residents said they are anxious about the health and environmental effects of the Army Corps’ plan.
“It might not affect us, but it will affect our children,” said Patrizia Rahner MD, who has lived in Morris Cove for five years.
Officials from the Army Corps of Engineers have assured residents that the proposed plan is, in fact, safe.
Army Corps research biologist Thomas Fredette said that “numerous technical reports” demonstrate low contaminant loss and rapid dilution, indicating the toxins from the dredged material are unlikely to have significant health or environmental impacts. Fredette added that ultimately, issues of water quality and will be under the purview of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.
Still, residents’ fears have yet to be mollified.
“Toxic is toxic,” said Sean Nickerson, a three-year resident of Morris Cove that attended the rally.
“It’s simple science; I don’t know why they can’t figure it out,” lamented rally attendee Michael Johnson, a 36-year Cove resident.
Residents’ frustrations were echoed by city officials.
“With the muscle of all of us, there is a vibrant regulatory process,” said DeStefano.
In order for the Corps to transfer the toxic material to Morris Cove, a permit for water quality and a permit for compliance with the comprehensive coastal environment must be obtained from the state Department of Environmental Protection, Sheiffele added.
Even if the Corps secured these permits, any party of people can intervene in an appeal process for environmental reasons, Sheiffele said.
“This is an ill-conceived plan,” Al Paolillo, Ward 17 Alderman, said. “All the elected officials stand with the residents.”
Residents have been signing petitions and vocalizing their dissent since Morris Cove was first targeted as a storage site.
Gloria Bellacicco, who attended the rally, said she collected 40 signatures Saturday alone against the proposal.
“There is no decision made on this yet, and that’s why we’re here today,” said Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro at the rally. “Just keep your voices loud and clear!”
Bridgeport was last dredged in 1964. Since then, four to seven feet of silt and other materials have accumulated in the bottom of the harbor.