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Legal Challenge of Dredging Project Filed

PRESS RELEASE

APRIL 7, 2017

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.
  1. 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.
  2. Monitoring comprises the vast majority of the mitigation expenditures. Monitoring is a standard permit condition and not a substitute for true compensatory mitigation.
  3. 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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  1. A multi-port analysis assessing competition among regional ports was not conducted.
  2. The economic analysis did not follow USACE guidelines.
  3. 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 read the complaint. 

Click here for more detailed information about the dredging issue and the concerns of St. Johns RIVERKEEPER.

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