JACKSONVILLE, FL – On Friday, April 7, 2017, St. Johns RIVERKEEPER filed a Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief in federal court against the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) regarding the proposed St. Johns River harbor deepening project.
In April 2015, the Record of Decision was issued approving the USACE’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the JAXPORT proposal to dredge 13 miles of the St. Johns River from a depth of 40-feet to 47-feet, finding the plan to be “economically justified” and “environmentally acceptable.”
St. Johns RIVERKEEPER’s complaint seeks review of the FEIS under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) citing the USACE’s 1) failure to take the required “hard look” at the environmental consequences of dredging, 2) failure to provide appropriate in-kind mitigation for the environmental damage that will result from the dredging, 3) failure to provide an adequate comprehensive economic analysis to determine the merits of such a massive expenditure of public funds, 4) failure to comply with public participation requirements, and 5) failure to supplement the FEIS when relevant new information or circumstances arose.
“We can’t afford to roll the dice with the future of the St. Johns. Once the damage is done, there is no turning back,” states St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman. “Unfortunately, the Army Corps has failed to exercise due diligence and provide the public with assurances that our river will be protected.”
St. Johns RIVERKEEPER concerns:
The mitigation plan is woefully inadequate, requiring no restoration projects or strategies to offset the damage that will be incurred from dredging.
Dredging will cause salt water to move farther upstream, destroying wetlands, submerged grasses, and trees that provide critical habitat for fisheries and pollution filters for the river.
Monitoring comprises the vast majority of the mitigation expenditures. Monitoring is a standard permit condition and not a substitute for true compensatory mitigation.
Post-project monitoring will not undo the damage from an irrevocably altered salinity regime in the St. Johns.
The USACE analysis is flawed and incomplete, significantly underestimating the potential threats to the health of the St. Johns River.
USACE used two different salinity models for the main stem and tributary analyses. Use of different models for the salinity intrusion model makes evaluation unreliable.
USACE’s river channel sedimentation model does not provide necessary information to establish environmental effects for sedimentation.
Impacts from the blasting of bedrock and sedimentation from dredging will potentially cause adverse impacts to several endangered species, including manatees, shortnose sturgeon, North Atlantic right whales, and sea turtles.
The federal and regional economic interests have not been demonstrated or verified, as required by Federal Law.
A multi-port analysis assessing competition among regional ports was not conducted.
The economic analysis did not follow USACE guidelines.
Economic methods and assumptions were not adequately documented.
Lisa Rinaman, the St. Johns Riverkeeper: “Regrettably, the Army Corps of Engineers has underestimated the environmental impacts, done nothing to offset the damage that will occur, and failed to demonstrate a clear economic need, leaving us with no choice but to challenge this project.”
In addition to the legal arguments raised by St. Johns RIVERKEEPER, local logistics expert Dale Lewis recently conducted an independent analysis that raises questions about the economic viability of the proposed dredging.
Rinaman continues, “This recent analysis needs to be taken seriously to make sure we are not pursuing a dredge to nowhere. If the deep dredge doesn’t make economic sense, why even gamble with the health of our community’s greatest natural asset in the first place?”
Click here to download a factsheet about this important issue.
JAXPORT has received approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the St. Johns River from 40 to 47-feet to accommodate larger post-Panamax ships. The Army Corps’ Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) predicts only “minor” ecological impacts from the proposed deepening. JAXPORT is currently seeking the federal, state, and local funding necessary to begin the project.
St. Johns RIVERKEEPER has serious concerns that:
The impacts to the river have been significantly underestimated,
The economic and environmental risks have been ignored or downplayed,
The projected economic benefits have been dramatically overstated by Jaxport and some of its partners,
The proposed mitigation is woefully inadequate to minimize or offset the damage to the river, and
Relevant information and facts have been excluded from the analysis and/or public debate.
Thirteen miles of the river would be deepened, from the mouth of the St. Johns River to just west of the Dames Point Bridge near Blount Island.
Two areas of the channel close to Chicopit Bay and Ft. Caroline National Memorial would be widened.
The widening and 17.5% increase in depth would require the removal of 18 million cubic yards of dredged material, the equivalent of over 1.6 million dump truck loads.
Up to 56 million cubic yards of dredge material would be removed from annual maintenance dredging over the 50-year life of the project.
The dredged material will be placed in a newly created Offshore Dredged Material Disposal Site (ODMDS), located in the Atlantic Ocean southeast of the mouth of the river.
The Environmental Impact Study (EIS) was fast-tracked by President Obama’s “We Can’t Wait Initiative,” reducing the timeframe by 14 months and limiting the ability of the Corps to thoroughly evaluate this complex issue.
Salinity will move farther upstream, impacting hundreds of acres of wetlands and submerged aquatic vegetation (SAVs) and killing or stressing numerous trees in some sections of the river. Read this article to learn more about the impacts of increased salinity on wetlands, riparian forests, and floodplains. Also, watch this short video with wetland scientist, Robin Lewis.
The most significant impacts to wetlands are expected to occur along the St. Johns, within the Ortega River, Julington, Durbin, and Black Creeks.
The Corps acknowledges the limitations of its models: "Actual conditions will deviate from those used to drive the models. These deviations introduce additional uncertainty in the models’ ability to predict future conditions and impacts."
The models estimate the exact same impact to wetlands (394.57 acres) and submerged aquatic vegetation (180.5 acres) for every depth analyzed (44, 45, 46, 47, and 50-ft deep channel).
Water may remain in the river for a longer period of time, increasing the probability of algal blooms.
Larger ships will create larger wakes, increasing the likelihood of shoreline erosion.
The mitigation plan is woefully inadequate, failing to offset the damage incurred from dredging.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that a volume of 4,309,677 cubic yards of rock may need to be removed, potentially exposing the surficial aquifer to saltwater intrusion.
"In the area of the proposed action, there have been incidences of dredged material failing to meet the ocean dumping criteria....Consequently, EPA notes a potential for adverse effects on aquatic environments of dredged material does exist."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have expressed concerns regarding the potential impacts to threatened and endangered species from the blasting that will be necessary.
The impacts from dredging are expected to significantly exacerbate and expedite the inevitable affects of sea level rise (SLR). Unfortunately, the Army Corps evaluates the effects of the minimum value for SLR and never considers either the Intermediate or the worst-case scenario.
The Independent Expert Peer Review (IEPR) of the EIS raised significant concerns stating that the analysis of salinity results “provide an incomplete understanding of the impacts of channel enlargement" and the sediment modeling results “do not provide a reliable estimate of the annual sedimentation rates” and “are assumed to be unreliable indicators of future conditions."
The Army Corps of Engingeers has a long track record of miscalculations. Read more.
The harbor deepening is projected to cost at least $766 million, with the state and local government responsible for $383 million.
This total does not include the cost of fixing Mile Point, annual maintenance dredging, and road and other infrastructure improvements that will be necessary.
The Corps report only evaluates the benefits of larger vessels having access to a deeper harbor. These transportation cost savings would accrue primarily to the shippers and carriers, not the local economy.
Local job projections are from a study conducted by a paid consultant of Jaxport. The Martin Associates report has not been evaluated by the Corps and the assumptions and methodology used by Martin have not been independently peer-reviewed and validated.
Nearly 81% of the jobs cited by Jaxport are "related jobs." The Martin study clearly states: “It is to be further emphasized that when the impact models are used for planning purposes, related jobs should not be used to measure the economic benefits of a particular project. Related jobs are not estimated with the same degree of defensibility as direct, induced and indirect jobs.”
No cost estimate has been provided for the annual maintenance dredging that will be required.
The Dames Point Bridge has a vertical clearance of 174 feet and the Blount Island overhead power cables have a clearance of 175 feet. Many of the post-panamax ships require an air draft of 190 feet or more.
John Martin of Martin and Associates, the Jaxport consultant who conducted the study of local economic impacts from the harbor deepening: “The idea that the Panama Canal will instantly bring more business to the Eastern Seaboard is an ‘urban myth.’ Whatever business the Atlantic ports could easily take from Los Angeles and other Pacific cities has already moved east”. (The Dallas Morning News, Feb, 2012)
The IEPR concluded that "The Regional Economic Development (RED) benefits are incorrectly attributed to the harbor deepening and therefore overemphasize regional benefits of the Jacksonville Harbor Project."
The Army Corps has failed to conduct a multi-port analysis. As a result, the IEPR identified this omission as a “showstopper” issue.
According to “The Great Port Mismatch” from the Brookings Institution and JPMorgan Chase & Co., Jacksonville is not one of the top 25 port complexes in the U.S. in terms of total exports and imports by value. However, seven other metropolitan areas on the East Coast made the list, including all of Jacksonville’s major competitors.
In its 2012 Panama Canal impact study, the Army Corps wrote that Savannah, Charleston and Miami would be the critical southeastern ports for handling Post Panamax vessel traffic. Other regional ports, such as Jacksonville, should be “cascade ready”.
The Savannah Morning News reported that "The ports of New York/New Jersey, Norfolk and Savannah each had 31 calls from 10,000-plus TEU vessels between July 1 and Dec. 31 last year. Charleston saw seven of the big ships during the same time period, while Jacksonville and Miami had none."
According to the Army Corps, Jacksonville has a benefit to cost ratio (BCR) of 2.7, while Savannah’s ratio is 5.5 and Charleston’s BCR is 3.79. The minimum to qualify for federal funding is 2.5, making Jacksonville less competitive for federal support.
The Army Corps has a poor track record of accurately estimating costs. According to the Florida Times-Union, “The most recent project, which deepened about five miles of the harbor from 38 to 40 feet, cost almost four times what was planned, according to Army Corps documents. In 2003, the corps predicted the project would cost $16.4 million, but when it wrapped up in 2010 the cost ran to $64.8 million. The previous project, which deepened a 15-mile stretch of the harbor from 38 to 40 feet, was estimated to cost $26.1 million in 1999. By 2003, it had cost $47.9 million.” Just recently, the price tag for the Savannah port dredging project that is already underway rose by 38 percent to $973 million.
Recently, new information was also released by Dale Lewis, a retired logisitics expert, who has been conducting an independent analysis of the economics of the proposed dredging of the St. Johns. We believe the results of this extensive work support our position that the economic benefits have been significantly overstated by Jaxport and their consultants. Click here to learn more about this analysis.
St. Johns RIVERKEEPER released a paper, "Does the Deep Dredge Make Economic Sense for Jacksonville?", to help the community make a more informed decision regarding the proposed dredging. How reliable are the economic projections? What is the likelihood that Jacksonville will be the choice of shippers when so many East Coast ports are also deepening their harbors and so many unknowns still remain?
A Peer Review by a panel of independent experts questions some of the modeling results and conclusions in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), raising significant doubts about the thoroughness and accuracy of the evaluation.
Here are some of the findings of the Panel:
"The analysis and presentation of salinity results in the General Reevaluation Report II (GRR2) provide an incomplete understanding of the impacts of channel enlargement."
"The adaptive hydraulics (ADH) sediment modeling results do not provide a reliable estimate of the annual sedimentation rates necessary to establish environmental effects and sediment management requirements."
"Because the period was not shown to be representative of typical conditions and the model [ADH] is not considered validated, the results are assumed to be unreliable indicators of future conditions."
"The Adaptive Management Plan does not include key elements such as trigger thresholds and specific actions to correct deficiencies."
The peer review experts also took issue with the economic analysis that was conducted.
"The Regional Economic Development (RED) benefits are incorrectly attributed to the harbor deepening and therefore overemphasize regional benefits of the Jacksonville Harbor Project."
"According to Section 3.3.4, any RED benefits resulting from increased traffic will occur under the without- and with-project conditions and are not associated with deepening of the harbor."
"An accurate assessment of the regional economic benefits generated by the proposed project is needed to support the overall understanding of project benefits and of the project’s impact on the regional economy."
"Federal interest has not been demonstrated in the General Reevaluation Report II (GRR2) because a multi-port analysis assessing competition among regional ports is not provided."
WHAT YOU CAN DO
• Contact Mayor Lenny Curry, City Council Members, and the JAXPORT Board of Directors. Tell them to (1) demand further analysis of the economic viability of the project to make sure it is worth a $1 billion investment by taxpayers, and to (2) protect the St. Johns River by providing more mitigation to help offset the damage that will likely occur if the dredging is funded.
RON LITTLEPAGE - JACKSONVILLE'S PORT CAN THRIVE WITHOUT DREDGING: Florida Times-Union 3.23.17 - "To justify JaxPort’s mega-spending plan — $700 million on the dredge itself and hundreds of millions more for other infrastructure improvements — Lewis said the container business at JaxPort would have to grow 100 percent in the first nine years after dredging. Over the past five years, Lewis points out, JaxPort’s container traffic has grown 1 percent a year."
RON LITTLEPAGE - WE NEED DEEPER DIVE ON THE NUMBERS FOR DREDGING: Florida Times-Union 3.7.17 - "Before continuing along the seemingly predetermined path to spend $700 million to deepen the St. Johns River shipping channel, someone in authority needs to pay attention to what Dale Lewis is saying....Lewis speaks with the authority of a resume that includes 30 years of experience in rail, ship and truck transportation, a graduate degree in transportation from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a long career with CSX."
ANALYST: JAXPORT MAY NOT SEE THE ECONOMIC IMPACT PROJECTED WITH DREDGING: Jacksonville Business Journal, 3.6.17 - "In his presentation Friday, Lewis said he believes deepening the St. John's River will not increase Jaxport's market share in container shipping in the southeast region, nor will the deepening make Jaxport significantly more competitive with rival ports, Savannah or Charleston."
STUDY FINDS MUD STIRRED UP BY MIAMI DREDGE KILLED CORAL: Tampa Bay Times, 11.22.16 - "Dredging at PortMiami killed far more coral than the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicted, scientists from the National Marine Fisheries Service and the University of Miami have concluded in a new study....The research team studied pictures taken before, during and after the dredge and said sediment spread across an area about 14 times bigger than the Corps permit allowed for."
DREDGING CHALLENGE WILL MOVE TO FEDERAL COURT:
On Tuesday, July 26, 2016, St. Johns RIVERKEEPER filed a notice withdrawing its legal challenge of the Army Corps of Engineers’ state Environmental Resource Permit (ERP) due the lack of enforceability and will now focus its efforts on a legal challenge at the federal level. Click here to read more.
RIVERKEEPER GUEST COLUMN: April 19, 2016 - "Unfortunately, the analysis by the Army Corps of Engineers remains flawed, failing to accurately and thoroughly assess the economic and environmental impacts of the dredging. To make matters worse, virtually no mitigation is being proposed or required and important water quality protections will be waived for eight years. As a result, we are now left with no choice but to seek a legal remedy to ensure the protection of the St. Johns." Read more.
DREDGING CHALLENGED FILED: On Friday, April 1, 2016, St. Johns RIVERKEEPER filed a Petition for Formal Administrative Hearing against the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to challenge the state Environmental Resource Permit (ERP) for the proposed St. Johns River harbor deepening project. Read more.
MIAMI DREDGING DEBACLE: Port expansion damaged unique coral reefs, Miami Herald 9.20.15
"Rather than mitigate the negative affects of dredging and safeguard the only coral reef tract in the continental United States, the Corps and its contractor cut corners at every turn: allowing transport ships to leak sediment plumes that are strangling our reefs; refusing to replace ineffective monitoring devices; ignoring survey data that indicated, beyond doubt, that the reefs were dying; and casting aside the suggestions of local, state and federal experts. What’s worse, as the project’s sponsor, Miami-Dade County and its taxpayers, not the Corps, will ultimately bear the burden of paying for the reefs’ repair."
PLANS FOR LEGAL CHALLENGE ANNOUNCED: On Tuesday, August 11, 2015, St. Johns RIVERKEEPER filed a Notice of Intent to Sue the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) regarding the proposed St. Johns River harbor deepening project. Learn more about the announcement on our blog, from this Florida Times-Union article, and this letter to the editor from Lisa Rinaman, the St. Johns Riverkeeper.
MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING: In August 2015, the Jax Chamber inexplicably backed out of its MOU with St. Johns RIVERKEEPER. At the beginning of the year, St. Johns RIVERKEEPER, the City of Jacksonville, Jax Chamber, and JAXPORT had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining a plan to work together for the removal or breaching of the Kirkpatrick Dam (aka Rodman Dam) and restoration of the Ocklawaha River. If the restoration of the Ocklawaha River was authorized and funded by the state, St. Johns RIVERKEEPER agreed to not legally challenge the Army Corps of Engineers' Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed dredging project.
While the restoration of the Ocklawaha would not mitigate for all of the impacts of dredging, no other mitigation option has been identified that would provide comparable ecological benefits to the St. Johns River. St. Johns RIVERKEEPER continues to seek more mitigation to help fortify the river, should the proposed deepening project move forward. Click here to learn more about the benefits of restoring the Ocklawaha.
POSSIBLE NEW PLAN: Having difficulty securing federal funding for the proposed dredging project, JAXPORT is looking at a possible new plan that would reduce the scope of the dredging from 13 river miles to 11. According to JAXPORT, the new plan would reduce the cost of the proposed project and help improve the project's benefit-to-cost ratio (BCR) which is currently only 2.7. The minimum criteria to qualify for federal funding is a BCR of 2.5. However, several other harbor expansion projects that are vying for limited federal dollars have higher ratios, such as Savannah with a BCR of 5.7.
ARMY CORPS OFTEN UNDERSTIMATES EXPENSES: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers consistently, and sometimes drastically, underestimated the cost of deepening Jacksonville Harbor over the past 50 years, according to documents obtained by the Times-Union from the corps and JaxPort. Read the article.
LEAD LETTER FROM RIVERKEEPER CHAIRMAN: When it comes to our city evaluating the deepening of the St. Johns River for JaxPort, the recommendation to dredge is coming from an “expert", the Army Corps of Engineers, which in project planning and estimating benefits, risks and costs has a track record that undermines its credibility. Read the entire letter.
PORT TASK FORCE: Soon after being elected in 2015, Mayor Lenny Curry decided to terminate the Port Task Force. The Port Task Force consists of community and business leaders appointed by Mayor Alvin Brown and tasked with evaluating the economic viability and environmental impacts of the proposed dredging project.
ARMY CORPS COMPLETES STUDY: In April of 2014, The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) completed a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of the proposal to dredge the St. Johns River from 40 to 47-feet. Read St. Johns Riverkeeper's comments regarding the EIS. Florida Wildlife Federation, North Florida Land Trust, Public Trust Environmental Legal Institute of Florida, and Sierra Club Northeast Florida Group signed on to the comments, as well.
Riverside Avondale Preservation (RAP), St. Johns RIVERKEEPER and the Ixia Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society are pleased to announce the winner of the 2017 Outstanding River Friendly Yard Award. This year's award recipients are Mell Bridges and Gregory Curry, 1855 Powell Place, Jacksonville Florida.
The award recognizes the efforts of members in our community to create a River Friendly yard or landscape and reduce the impact upon the health of our waterways and natural environment by using low-maintenance native plants, preventing stormwater runoff, and minimizing the use of irrigation, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.
The excessive and inappropriate use of fertilizers is one of the leading causes of the nutrient pollution problem that plagues waterways throughout our state, triggering algal blooms, red tide events, and fish kills. In Jacksonville’s older neighborhoods, the storm drains lead directly to the St. Johns or its tributaries. As a result, stormwater that runs off of yards and into the streets picks up litter, debris, motor oil, fertilizers, chemicals, and pet waste along the way, and this polluted water is transported directly into our waterways untreated.
The award criteria are based on the University of Florida's Florida Yards and Neighborhoods principles:
Right Plant, Right Place – your plant selection should match the yard’s soil, light, water, and climatic conditions to create a drought-tolerant, low-maintenance yard. Landscape your yard with drought-tolerant plants and groundcover, including at least 50% or more native plants. Avoid invasive plants. Here are two great websites to help you find the right plants for your yard – www.floridayards.org and www.fnps.org (Florida Native Plant Society).
Water Efficiently – Follow your local irrigation ordinance and only water as needed. If your home has an in-ground irrigation system, ensure it is as efficient as possible by utilizing water efficient components and individual plant needs. Inspect and repair the system in accordance to changing weather patterns.
Use Fertilizer and Chemicals Sparingly – or not at all. Only use slow-release fertilizers (50% or more of Nitrogen is slow-release or water-insoluble) with little or no phosphorous to minimize runoff into the river or leaching into the groundwater. Adopt Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques to spot-treat and minimize the use of toxic chemicals.
Use Mulch – Mulch retains moisture, slows runoff, and controls weeds. Don’t use Cypress for mulch as the harvesting of cypress for mulch destroys living trees and important habitat for wildlife. Recycle your yard waste and leaves by using as mulch and compost.
Attract Birds and Bees – Use native plants to provide valuable habitat for birds, pollinators, beneficial insects and other wildlife.
Protect Waterfront - Maintain a 10’ buffer next to waterways or directly adjacent to impervious surfaces where chemicals and fertilizers are not used. Also, use berms or swales when feasible. Point downspouts toward yard/garden and away from driveways and sidewalks. Use permeable materials when possible for walkways, paths and patios. All of these practices can help reduce runoff that can pollute our waterways.
Benefits of a River Friendly Yard include:
Reduces the exposure of people, pets and wildlife to harmful chemicals.
Reduces nutrient pollution and helps prevent algal blooms and fish kills.
Provides important habitat for wildlife.
Creates beautiful yards, while saving time and money by reducing the need for water, fertilizers, chemicals, and mowing.
CLICK HERE for more information and tips about River Friendly landscaping practices.
The St. Johns Riverkeeper headquarters are in Jacksonville, but the issues impacting the river are not so concentrated. Since we are continuing to expand our voice and efforts further into the watershed, we decided to host our annual meeting online this year, so that all of our members and supporters could join us. Click on the video to watch and hear the discussion surrounding the issues that are most critical to our river and what we are doing to defend, advocate, and activate others for the protection and restoration of the St. Johns!
TAKE ACTION! The SJRWMD Governing Board will vote on the proposed MFL on Tuesday, April 11. Scroll down for contact information for the Governing Board members and tell them to reject the District's plan to further reduce the flow of Silver Springs! If you wish to attend, the meeting will be at 11 a.m. at the City of Eustis Commission Chambers (10 N. Grove Street Eustis, FL 32726). Click here for more information about the meeting.
The flow of Silver Springs, a major source of fresh water for the St. Johns, has declined by over 32% since the 1930's. Yet, the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) recently announced a plan, called a minimum flows and levels (MFL), that will allow another 10 million gallons of water a day (mgd) to be withdrawn from the aquifer that feeds the springs, paving the way for more water for Sleepy Creek Ranch. This would result in an additional 2.5% decline in the flow of the Silver Springs, despite flows that have already been below the proposed MFL for 15 of the past 16 years.
The SJRWMD estimates that the historical decline in flow is mostly due to suppression from submersed aquatic vegetation (SAV) and long-term rainfall deficit. The agency claims that groundwater pumping is only responsible for about 3.5% of this decline. At a recent public workshop in Ocala, Dr. Robert Knight, director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute in Gainesville and president of the Silver Springs Alliance, described the SJRWMD's explanations for the decline as "ludicrous" and said the proposed MFL is "an embarrassment to the water district."
Since they project that the withdrawal of an additional 10 mgd would reduce flows below the MFL by 2025, the District plans to artificially recharge the aquifer with treated wastewater and captured stormwater. Nitrate-Nitrogen concentrations in Silver Springs are 25 times higher than historic levels. This "prevention strategy" would potentially add to the nutrient pollution that has already degraded the springs and aquifer.
The bottom line is that this MFL will not protect Silver Springs and the Silver River and prevent further degradation.