Due to public pressure, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has decided for the second time to extend the comment period for the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Study (DSEIS) regarding the Jacksonville Harbor Deepening Project until October 24th. St. Johns Riverkeeper submitted comments, along with several other agencies, prior to the first deadline, and we will do so again before the 24th.
Also, St. Johns Riverkeeper recently hosted a forum, "DREDGING THE ST. JOHNS: BUT AT WHAT COST?," to discuss the potential impacts and costs of deepening the river.
Panelists included: Kevin Bodge, Ph.D., P.E., Senior Engineer & Vice-President of Olsen Associates, Inc.; Quinton White, Jr., Ph.D., Executive Director, Jacksonville University Marine Science Research Institute; David Jaffee, Ph.D., University of North Florida Professor of Sociology; and Lisa Rinaman, the St. Johns Riverkeeper
Click on the forum panelists above to read comments they submitted at a June 27th Army Corps of Engineers public meeting regarding the study of the proposed harbor deeping project.
Get more informed and share this factsheet with your friends and colleagues.
Also, read this compelling paper by Dr. David Jaffee regarding some of the important economic factors and considerations associated with deeping the port.
Read our July 24th press release - Obama Port Initiative Threatens St. Johns.
TO DREDGE OR NOT TO DREDGE
The Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) has been studying the proposal to dredge the existing channel of the St. Johns River from 40 to 47-feet. 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, and two areas of the channel close to Chicopit Bay and Ft. Caroline National Memorial would also be widened. This would result in the removal of 18 million cubic yards of dredged material, the equivalent of over 1.6 million dump truck loads. In addition, up to 56 million cubic yards of dredge material would be removed from annual mainentance dredging over the 50-year life of the project.
Recently, the Corps released the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) addressing potential impacts, such as increased salinity farther upstream, shoreline erosion, more algal blooms, and the loss of wetlands and habitat. The report estimates the cost of the dredging project at $733 million, including nearly $80 million for mitigation of anticipated environmental impacts. However, this enormous price tag does not include the cost of any long-term damage that may happen to our river.
St. Johns Riverkeeper has serious concerns about the harm that may occur to the St. Johns from the dredging and blasting that will be necessary to remove rock along some of the river bottom. As a result, we have assembled a team of highly-qualified experts to help us independently review the analysis and reports that are being conducted.
The Corps report estimates that nearly 450 acres of wetlands and 300 acres of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAVs) are expected to be impacted from changes in salinity, but we believe the extent of the damage may be much worse. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also recently weighed in expressing concerns regarding potential impacts to threatened and endangered species from the blasting that will take place to deepen the river.
The report also still lacks critical analysis and data that is essential to the decision-making process. Some conclusions are vague, some concerns are not even addressed, and the following studies have not yet been completed: modeling of fish and macroinvertebrate communities, water quality modeling, tributaries and salt marsh modeling, groundwater report prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey, hydrodynamic modeling, storm surge and coastal modeling, and ship wake modeling.
In addition, the mitigation plan to offset the anticipated damage to the river is woefully inadequate. The suggested mitigation plan will simply not undo the harm that will result from the dredging nor provide a net benefit or improvement to the St. Johns River. Instead, the plan recommends monitoring without required corrective actions, nutrient removal projects that fulfill a small percentage of existing regulatory obligations mandated in 2008, the purchase of mitigation bank credits resulting in a net loss of wetlands, and the purchase of some conservation lands of unknown quality or location.
Even though the economic piece is not our primary focus, we must get an accurate picture of the economic benefits that could be reasonably expected, if we, the community, are to adequately assess the pros and cons. We have concerns that the projected economic benefits by JAXPORT may be overstated, and the Corps has already determined that minimal economic benefits would be gained at a substantial cost by going from 45 to 47-feet.
“We are seriously concerned about the lack of detail and limited depth of analysis in the report,” says Lisa Rinaman, the St. Johns Riverkeeper. “Some of the conclusions are vague, some concerns are not even addressed, and many critical studies have not yet been completed. This decision has significant long-term consequences for the St. Johns and our community, requiring caution and careful scrutiny. We can't afford to roll the dice with our river's future.”
A major reason that the analysis has so far been inadequate and incomplete is because President Obama issued a "We Can't Wait Initiative" in July of 2012 that expedited the study for Jacksonville Harbor. This decision dramatically reduced the study schedule by more than a year, providing the Corps with much less time to sufficiently evaluate this complex issue and jeopardizing the credibility of the analysis. We believe the President has made a significant mistake by fast tracking this critical decision when so much is at stake for the St. Johns River and the communities of Northeast Florida.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Please, get informed and get involved in this critical issue. We need to make sure our voices are heard and to ensure that this proposal is thoroughly evaluated using all of the relevant facts and data.
- Get informed. Read the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) report by clicking here and access all of the appendices and attachments on the Corps website.
- Submit your comments regarding the draft EIS to Paul Stodola with the Army Corps of Engineers by July 31st at (904) 232-3271 or Paul.E.Stodola@usace.army.mil.
- Contact your elected officials. Let them know that the proposed St. Johns River Harbor Deepening Project should not move forward until all of the potential costs and environmental impacts have been thoroughly evaluated and the analysis of projected local economic benefits has been released to the public and independently peer-reviewed.