NEW HAVEN — In the 1950s, during construction of Interstate 95, about 1 million cubic yards of fill was excavated from a “borrow pit” in New Haven Harbor off Morris Cove and used as fill for the newly emerging highway system.
A half-century later, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to fill part of that huge hole with material from the long overdue dredging of Bridgeport Harbor, and cap it with “suitable material” from the same project.
“The intent is to do an environmental restoration. What happens over the years is, the toxic sediments are sitting at the bottom of that excavation. The Army Corps of Engineers is offering to take some material from Bridgeport, haul it over here, and start filling up this hole,” said Joseph Salvatore, dredging project coordinator for the state Department of Transportation.
Salvatore said the work will clean the area and establish new shellfish beds adjacent to existing beds in the harbor.
“You are covering whatever toxicity is in there with cleaner material,” he said. “You are restoring it. It doesn’t move any further, it doesn’t spread, it doesn’t leach.”
There is a public information meeting set for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Nathan Hale School auditorium, 480 Townsend Ave., on the plan to bring some 197,000 cubic yards of dredged material from Bridgeport to New Haven Harbor.
The corps would dredge an additional 38,000 cubic yards of material to create an access channel to the Morris Cove borrow pit, which also would be deposited there.
A total of 1.78 million cubic yards of material will be dredged from Bridgeport Harbor to restore that 35-foot-deep federal channel, according to the corps.
Michael Keegan, project manager of the corps’ New England District, said the last maintenance dredging for Bridgeport was done in 1964, and shoaling has filled in the navigation channels by 4 to 7 feet.
New Haven Port Authority Executive Director Judy Sheiffele said her only concern is whether New Haven will need the borrow pit as a backup option where it could place materials when its harbor is dredged.
Sheiffele said as far as she knows, New Haven’s dredged material will be suitable for placement in the Central Long Island Sound site in New York, but that is scheduled to close in 2013.
It’s the corps’ responsibility to locate a disposal area, but finding a new site “could be extremely problematic,” Sheiffele said. She worried if the costs increased it could be a “heavy lift” to get necessary federal funding.
City Engineer Richard Miller said his question is whether filling the pit will change currents and hurt the shoreline.
He said an illegal dock on Cove Street added beachfront that buried outlets from the city’s drainage system, and he now has to go to the state Department of Environmental Protection for a permit to expose the end of the drainage pipe.
With the outlets buried, he said he can’t channel storm water through the causeway near the Lighthouse Road fire station.
“The way some people think up at DEP, they have no care whatsoever whether or not the street floods. It is frustrating that we have to live with a flooding issue and there is not a sense of concern,” Miller said.
By Mary E. O’Leary, Register Topics Editor