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Dredged Material Management Program Dredged Material Management Program


Management of Dredged Material in NY-NJ Harbor

Sediments from waterways in and around cities and industrial areas are often contaminated with a variety of pollutants.  These pollutants are introduced to the waterway from point sources such as spills, combined sewer overflows, and  municipal and industrial discharges or may be introduced from non-point sources such as surface runoff and atmospheric deposition.  Management of dredged material requires careful planning of dredging needs and disposal alternatives (see Dredged Material Management Plan),  comprehensive evaluation of environmental consequences of specific proposed dredging and disposal actions through testing, and short and long term monitoring of dredged material disposal sites utilizing Site Management and Monitoring Plans (SMMP). Exit EPA disclaimer

The Port of New York and New Jersey is an extremely challenging system in which to manage dredged material.  The lower estuary region is densely populated and certain areas of the harbor complex are heavily industrialized. The system receives inputs of contaminants from a variety of sources including  municipal sewage treatment plants, industrial discharges, combined sewer outfalls, storm runoff and landfill leachates.  Two Superfund sites (the Diamond Alkali [Passaic River] site and the Hudson River PCB site ) are also suspected of being significant contributors to sediment contamination in the NY/NJ Harbor system.  These inputs combine to cause significant contamination of harbor sediments.   A description of system wide toxins contamination can be found in the Toxics Chapter of the NY/NJ Harbor Estuary Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan Exit EPA disclaimer .  Adding to the complexity of dredged material management in the system is the multitude of state and local jurisdictions and stakeholders that are affected by dredged material management decisions in the port.

Historically, open water disposal at an ocean site has been the primary method of disposing of sediments dredged from the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary.  The New York Bight Dredged Material Disposal Site (Mud Dump Site) was designated in 1984 for disposal of up to 100 million cubic yards of dredged material from the Port and nearby harbors.   The Mud Dump Site, and its environs, located 5.3 nautical miles east of Highlands, New Jersey and 9.6 nautical miles south of Rockaway, New YorkNew York Bight Dredged Material Disposal Site has historically been the major option for dredged material disposal since 1914.  An average of 4-5 million cubic yards of dredged material from NY/ NJ Harbor had been disposed in the ocean each year.   For more historical information on "Disposal of Wastes and Dredged Sediments in the New York Bight" (Massa, A., Del Vicario, M.,  Pabst, D., Pechko, P., Lechich, A.,  Stern, E.,  Dieterich, R., and May, B.) please refer to the journal of   Northeastern Geology and Environmental Sciences, vol. 18, no. 4, 1996. 

The Administrator of the EPA and the Secretaries of the Army and of Transportation agreed to close the Mud Dump Site for disposal of dredged material in their 1996 Three Party Letter.   This was in response to surveys that had shown that contaminants in the dredged material caused sediment toxicity and bioaccumulation effects in estuarine organisms.  For example, worm tissue at the disposal site was found to accumulate dioxins, and both dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination was found in lobsters.  Individual elements of the aforementioned data do not prove that sediments within the HARS are imminent hazards to the New York Bight Apex ecosystem, living resources or human health.  However, the collective evidence presents cause for concern, and justifies the finding that a need for remediation exists, that the site is Impact Category I (see, 40 CFR 228.10) Exit EPA disclaimer , and that the site should be managed to reduce impacts to acceptable levels.

In a final rule that became effective September 29, 1997, EPA de-designated and terminated the use of the Mud Dump Site.   Simultaneous with the closure of the Mud Dump Site, the site and surrounding areas that have been used historically as disposal sites for dredged materials were redesignated as the Historic Area Remediation Site (HARS).   See 40 CFR 228.15(a)(d)(6) Exit EPA disclaimer for the Code of Federal Regulations' Criteria for the Management of Disposal Sites for Ocean Dumping.   

Pursuant to the rule, the HARS is restricted to receive only dredged material suitable for use as Material for Remediation (also referred to as Remediation Material). Material for Remediation is defined in the HARS final rule preamble as "uncontaminated dredged material (i.e., dredged material that meets current Category I1 standards and will not cause significant undesirable effects including through bioaccumulation)."  The need for remediating the HARS is described in detail in the HARS' Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS).  For more information on the HARS' SEIS, please contact the EPA Library (NY) at (212) 637- 3185.

1Categories I, II, III were defined for the former MDS.  The Category I definition is used as part of the definition of Remediation Material at the HARS.

The HARS is an approximately 15.7 square nautical mile area, which includes the 2.2 square nautical mile area of the Mud Dump Site.  It is located 3.5 nautical miles east of Highlands, New Jersey and 7.7 nautical miles south of Rockaway, N.Y.  The HARS is comprised of three key areas: the Priority Remediation Area, the Buffer Zone, and the No Discharge Zone.  See the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Exit EPA disclaimer HARS website for more historical MDS/HARS information.

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New Jersey and Long Island Dredging Sites Under EPA Regulations

In addition to the Historic Area Remediation Site, there are eight inlet disposal sites servicing specific inlets in New York and New Jersey.  The four New York Sites are the Rockaway, East Rockaway, Jones, and Fire Island Inlet disposal sites, and the four New Jersey sites are the Shark River, Absecon, Manasquan, and Cold Spring Inlet disposal sites.  Because the majority of the material dredged from these inlets is sand, the material is generally used for beach nourishment.  Consequently, the inlet disposal sites are utilized on a sporadic basis for relatively small quantities of dredged material.  Region 2 Disposal Sites Map.  Region 2's Dredged material Management Team coordinates with EPA Region 1, which handles dredged material disposal sites on Long Island Sound.

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Regulatory Responsibilities and Authorities

There are several laws and regulations that govern the process of oceanic and inland disposal of dredged material. Federal agencies, such as the U.S.Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, implement these regulations for the disposal and management of dredge material.  These statutes and regulations have been designed to protect the marine environment and human health.

Ocean dumping regulations can also be found in the Code of Federal Regulations at 40CFR§228 Exit EPA disclaimer(certain sections above have already been highlighted for your convenience) which addresses criteria for the management of disposal sites for ocean dumping.

The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act of 1972 Exit EPA disclaimer (MPRSA) is the principal statute regulating all ocean disposal, including dredged material.  Under MPRSA 33 U.S.C. 1401 et seq. the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)   have been assigned various duties pertaining to HARS management. 

MPRSA generally calls for the following activities, among others:

  • EPA develops regulations detailing the environmental criteria used to evaluate proposals for ocean dumping;
  • EPA designates specific times and sites for ocean disposal, for both non-dredged and dredged material, and manages the sites (locations where dumping may occur are subject to a permit) ;
  • The Corps issues permits for ocean dumping of individual dredging projects; and,
  • EPA reviews these individual permits for dredged material and must concur in granting of the permit.

London Dumping Convention Exit EPA disclaimer , otherwise known as the "Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution By Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter" (1972)  addresses the deliberate disposal at sea of wastes or other matter from vessels, aircraft, and platforms.  It does not address:

The London Convention is implemented in the U.S. through Title I of the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) to enhance the regulation of ocean disposal. 

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA): Under NEPA, all federal agencies are to prepare detailed statements called environmental impact statements (EIS) assessing the environmental impact of, and alternatives to, major federal navigation projects (such as those involving dredging and disposal) that significantly affect the environment.  EPA is required to review and publicly comment on the environmental impacts of major federal navigation projects, including actions which are subject to EISs.  If EPA finds that an action is environmentally unsatisfactory, the matter is addressed by the Council on Environmental Quality.   

Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA)The Coastal Zone Management Act requires that federal agencies be consistent with the enforceable policies of state coastal zone management programs when conducting or supporting activities which affect a coastal zone.  The coastal zone includes islands, beaches, transitional and intertidal areas, salt marshes, etc.,

Clean Water Act § 404(Permits for dredged material): Under Clean Water Act (CWA) § 404, EPA may prohibit, restrict, or withdraw use of a site for the discharge of dredged or fill material which would have unacceptable effects on fish, wildlife, shellfish, recreation, or municipal water supplies.  In accordance with Clean Water Act § 401, an applicant for a permit will obtain a water quality certificate or waiver from the appropriate state agency prior to permit decision by the federal government.

Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) Exit EPA disclaimer 1986,'90,'92, & '96: addresses long-term disposal of dredged material and the promotes decontamination technologies for the manufacturing of material for beneficial uses.  In the 1992 amendment, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers  were authorized to review decontamination technologies and to select the best technologies to clean dredged material from New York and New Jersey harbors.

Under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 (RHA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulates dredging and other construction activities in navigable waters.  In conjunction with the Clean Water Act and Congressional requirements, the Army Corps of Engineers operates Federal Civil Works navigation programs which apply to all extensive dredging and dredged material discharge activities.  These programs are required by NEPA to analyze and document potential primary or secondary impacts, including those associated with dredging and dredged material discharges.

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