Little Northwest Creek Dredging Hopes To Restore Beach, Shellfishing

Workers with Patrick J. Bistrian Inc. of East Hampton are dredging the mouth of Little Northwest Creek on the border of Sag Harbor Village and East Hampton Town. STEPHEN J. KOTZ

The dredging of the mouth of Little Northwest Creek, a project that has been more than two years in the making, is currently under way.

The creek, which meanders along the edge of the Ninevah Beach subdivision, serves as the boundary between Sag Harbor Village and East Hampton Town.

Workers with Patrick J. Bistrian Inc., an East Hampton contractor, have been at the site removing approximately 4,000 cubic yards of sand that has built up along the creek’s former mouth and redistributing it along the beach. They expect to be finished by the end of this week or early next week.

The project has been led by the East Hampton Town Trustees, with the approval of Sag Harbor Village, whose Harbor Committee signed off on it in June 2020.

In recent years, the mouth of the creek, which used to enter straight into the bay, has developed a dog leg running to the west, effectively bisecting the beach and threatening to undermine the bluff and the houses built on top of it.

In addition, the reduced water flow has led to increased levels of harmful bacteria, causing the State Department of Environmental Conservation to institute a seasonal closure of shellfishing in the creek and in a 250-foot radius around its mouth.

The goals of the dredging project “are to correct the dog leg, get better water exchange farther up into the creek, and hopefully reduce the shellfish closure,” said East Hampton Town Trustee Jim Grimes, who has overseen the project for the town.

He said the State DEC, which issued the permit for the work, will also allow maintenance dredging over a 10-year time frame, but he said whether any additional work will need to be done depends on how Mother Nature reacts to the current project.

Grimes said the dredging will cost $105,400, which does not include future maintenance work. He said the Trustees will pay for the project out of their own funds but have worked with Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. to get reimbursement through a state grant, which he said he expected would be forthcoming.

Why the mouth of the creek shifted so radically to the west remains a mystery, although some have speculated that the widespread die-off of eelgrass in the bay allowed sand to drift toward the creek during heavy storms.

But after the mouth of the creek shifted sharply to the west, the result was the elimination of much of Ninevah’s prized beach. Clean sand and gravel from a sandbar blocking the former mouth of the creek is being used to fill in the section of the beach that has been scoured away by the flow of water from the creek.

For John Parker, a Harbor Committee member, the key issue is one of water quality and the desire to keep shellfishing grounds open. “It’s not just a convenience issue — ‘I’ve lost my beach,’ which is a property value issue — but a health issue,” he said.

Some village residents, remembering the fill that included metal, wood, and other debris, that was used on Havens Beach when Suffolk County dredged the area off Long Wharf, were concerned that a similar outcome could befall this project. That does not appear to be the case. On Monday, a digger dredged up buckets of clean sand from the creek, and a payloader distributed it along the beach.

Grimes said the DEC permit will only allow the removal of sand and gravel from the creek. “We can’t cut into that mucky bottom,” he said.

Besides, said Will Sharp, a Harbor Committee member whose house on Wilson Place overlooks the creek, the area dredged off Long Wharf was in the middle of a busy harbor, while the creek has largely remained untouched.

Neighbors and government officials met at the site two years ago to call for the dredging and a management plan. Two of those neighbors, Mike Payne of Ninevah and Steve Williams of Azurerest, were on hand Monday when a reporter visited the site.

Payne, who lives on Taft Place, overlooking the creek, said the last time he could remember it being dredged was likely in the 1950s when he was a child. Williams expressed optimism the project would result in a cleaner creek.

They were joined by Sharp, who said the project was a good example of the community putting its money where its mouth was. He said the Ninevah community paid the $25,000 fee of East Hampton engineer Drew Bennett, who designed the project.