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Dredging at Plum Island Creates Depth for Ferry and Provides Sand for Beaches and Berms

Photos by Stanley Michalowski, USACE, New York District.

As a child growing up on Long Island, New York, I was curious, along with other children, what was occurring on the mysterious Plum Island off our northeastern shore, that is restricted to the public. There was talk that the Federal Government was conducting animal experiments. So my vivid imagination envisioned Frankensteinian operations being performed on animals who then roamed the island’s barren beaches on additional arms and legs. Ironically, I was reading the book “Plum Island” by Nelson Demille when I learned about the work the New York District Corps of Engineers has been performing on the island for the past decade. – JoAnn Castagna

The Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) has been in existence since the mid 20th century, and has the important role of performing diagnosis, research and education to protect America’s livestock and food supply from animal diseases.The work by the Corps is supporting real and important work on the island, as well as preserving the island’s rich history and environment, and improving area beaches for the upcoming beach season. In 2001, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, then proprietors of the island, asked the Corps of Engineers to restore the eroding bluff around its historic light house that is no longer in operation. The Plum Island Light, built in 1869, is on three acres on the west end of the island.

“We constructed an 800-foot rock revetment erosion control structure to stop the erosion of the bluff,” said Stanley Michalowski, project engineer with the Corps New York District. “To build the revetment, 17,000 tons of stone was used. Afterwards there was some stone remaining, to rehab two jetties at the entrance to Plum Island Basin.”

The contractor for this work was James H. Rambo, Inc.

The stone used for all of this work was beneficially re-used material from the Corps Sag Harbor Breakwater Rehab Project. In 2007, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the new proprietors of the island, asked the agency to replace a bulkhead and perform some needed sand dredging in Plum Island Harbor, and at Orient Harbor on the northeastern end of Long Island. All workers must get to the island by ferry from either Orient Harbor or Old Saybrook, Connecticut, and the ferries were hitting bottom in the harbors, requiring maintenance dredging both for the ferries and the oil tankers bringing fuel to the island.

In 2008, the Corps contracted Village Dock, Inc. to dredge approximately 17,430 cubic yards of sand from Plum Island Harbor, and this year dredged an additional 9,925 cubic yards. The dredged sand was used to reinforce a dune on the island and to build a sand stockpile for emergency use if the dune erodes.

Terry Material and Construction was contracted to repair the bulkhead at Plum Island Harbor. The dune acts as a barrier and prevents the ocean’s salt water from mixing with a fresh water wetland ecosystem – the recharge area for the well field supplying all the fresh water on the island. In 2008, 46,000 square feet of the dune was graded and vegetated with hand planted beach grass. This year an additional 13,250 square feet of the dune was graded and vegetated, and fencing placed to help prevent sand erosion.

The Corps also dredged approximately 14,835 cubic yards of sand from Orient Harbor, and this sand was used to restore two Long Island beaches – Orient Beach State Park and Orient Point County Park. Plans are to dredge an additional 10,000 cubic yards this fall.

These beaches need the sand because they experienced serious beach erosion from storms. The sand is being used to stabilize utility poles that were weakened and blown inward and protect roadways that experienced erosion. In addition, the sand will build up beaches, which will provide additional recreational area for the public for the summer beach season.

About the Author
Dr. JoAnne Castagna is a technical writer-editor for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District. Contact her at

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