SCUBA And Environmental Organizations Challenge Massive Dredging Project To Try To Save Threatened Corals.
August 17, 2016. FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.— A group of environmental organizations and America’s largest trade organization for recreational divers filed suit in federal court today in Southern Florida to seek protections for coral reefs in Fort Lauderdale. The corals in and around Port Everglades are threatened by a proposed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredging and port expansion project to make way for larger, Panama-canal sized vessels.
Port Everglades is about 30 miles north of the Port of Miami (PortMiami), where the Corps recently deepened and widened the Miami Harbor Channel, a project that proved disastrous for the coral reef in the area. For the PortMiami project, the Corps had assumed there would be minimal impacts to coral, but instead fine-grained sediment from the project injured and smothered tens of thousands of coral colonies and over 250 acres of the reefs. The damage spread out over half a mile from the dredging. Despite these devastating results, the Corps has used the same flawed methodologies to evaluate the Port Everglades proposal, refusing to change any of its procedures to better protect corals.
“Floridians know the beauty and the value of these majestic reefs — the only nearshore barrier reef in the continental US. The PortMiami project proved that the Corps of Engineers’ environmental review process is flawed, and that the dredging could irreparably harm this national treasure.” said Brettny Hardy, an attorney at Earthjustice who represents plaintiffs in the case. “Under the law, a proper analysis must be done before further taxpayer dollars are spent on this potentially devastating project.”
In the complaint filed today, Miami Waterkeeper, Center for Biological Diversity, Florida Wildlife Federation, and the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) allege that the Corps inadequately considered the risks to corals in approving the Port Everglades dredging project, and violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The complaint points out that the environmental analyses that the Corps and the National Marine Fisheries Service relied on to approve the project simply does not represent “best available science,” the legal standard for agency decision-making, because it fails to account for new information realized during dredging at PortMiami, among other reasons.
“After the devastating impacts caused by the dredging at PortMiami to our reefs, we will do everything in our power to ensure that history does not repeat itself at Port Everglades.” said Rachel Silverstein, executive director and waterkeeper of Miami Waterkeeper. “The Corps must follow the law.”
While the Corps has already acknowledged that its current environmental analysis is not appropriate or sufficient, it does not plan to begin a new formal evaluation of the dredging plans and environmental considerations until January 2017, at the earliest. In the meantime, it is moving forward with engineering and design of the Port Everglades project and seeking Congressional authorization for project funding, still relying on faulty, outdated environmental documents.
“It is incredibly reckless that the Corps is continuing to move forward without redoing its evaluation based on the dramatic sedimentation impacts that took place at PortMiami,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
“We’re glad the agencies agree more needs to be done, but so far there are no assurances that the new evaluation will be done correctly or in time to make a difference. The details matter. We need to ensure they do this in time and get it right.”
Protecting the coral reef will require more expansive – and likely more expensive – monitoring, mitigation, and changes to dredging methodologies. Because the Corps’ analysis is inadequate, the groups fear that the current requested funding levels will fall short of what’s needed to prevent harm to the reef.
“That’s exactly why these documents are intended to be done properly before the project is authorized. The Corps is going about this backwards and the result will be an incomplete execution of the plan to protect the reefs,” said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation.
The reefs provide huge environmental and economic benefits to South Florida.
“The living coral reefs in South Florida are enormously important, not only as an irreplaceable environment, but as a contributor to the economy of the state and Florida’s diving industry,” said Tom Ingram, President and CEO of the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA). “Each year snorkeling and scuba diving in Florida account for almost 9 million visitor-days, create almost 30,000 full-time equivalent tourism-related jobs, and contribute about $1 billion directly to the Florida economy. DEMA is determined to help protect the natural reef from destruction so that many generations to come can continue to enjoy the opportunity to see, first-hand, this unique and precious natural resource.”
Miami Waterkeeper is a South Florida-based non-profit. Our mission is to protect South Florida’s watershed through citizen engagement and community action, ensuring swimmable, drinkable, fishable, water for all. Through our work, we hope to ensure clean and vibrant South Florida waters and coastal culture for generations to come.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Florida Wildlife Federation is a statewide non-profit conservation organization advocating for abundant wildlife and fisheries, habitats and clean water, and supporting outdoor recreation.
DEMA is the trade association for the recreational diving industry. Our mission is to bring businesses together to grow the recreational diving industry worldwide, and our goals include helping divers everywhere have continuing access to a clean, healthy diving environment.
Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of the law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health; to preserve magnificent places and wildlife; to advance clean energy; and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.