Unfortunately, a federal judge recently sided with the Army Corps of Engineers in our lawsuit aimed at protecting the St. Johns River from the negative impacts of the dredging.
Despite this ruling, the facts remain. Dredging will cause more saltwater intrusion, destroy or damage critical wetlands and submerged vegetation and increase water levels and storm surge in the river. This is according to the Army Corps’ own studies.
Each time we dredge, salty water is able to travel further upriver, and the current dredging project will be no different. This will likely damage or destroy nearly 400 acres of trees and wetlands and over 180 acres of aquatic grasses.
The National Marine Fisheries Service commented that its scientists are “concerned about the [salinity] impacts to tidal creek systems, especially those in the Trout River, Ortega River, Julington Creek and Black Creek.”
The Fisheries Service goes on to say “salinity-based habitat shifts and changes in associated ecological function” will adversely impact shrimp, fish, and other aquatic species that “rely on these habitats for refuge, maturation, spawning, and foraging.” The agency also notes, “ecosystem changes do not occur abruptly and considerable time may pass before effects become apparent. …”
This is important to understand. By the time the damage is done, the prospects for mitigation and accountability will have eroded – much like the health of our river.
The Army Corps also projects storm surge to increase in some areas by more than eight inches, and maximum water levels in the river to increase up to an additional 12 percent during smaller, “high frequency” storms.
For instance, if a storm event increased water levels in downtown Jacksonville by 1 foot above a normal tide level of 1 foot, the dredging could increase that water level by an additional 2.88 inches. Hurricane Irma made it all too obvious that inches really do matter.
While these projections are certainly concerning, we believe that the Army Corps has actually underestimated the extent of the impacts that will likely occur. This is due to shortcomings in their studies and a lack of analysis in some cases.
For instance, a peer review of the Corps’ study by an independent panel of experts concluded that the salinity results “provide an incomplete understanding of the impacts of channel enlargement.” In addition, the Corps failed to conduct a thorough flood analysis, despite projecting increases in storm surge and water levels.
The bottom line is that the dredging will harm our river and its wildlife and will make our community more vulnerable to future storms. Yet, we are left with no mitigation to offset the damage that will be done. The good news is that it is not too late to fortify our river and our neighborhoods, if we make our voices heard.
A Jacksonville City Council special committee is currently developing recommendations for resiliency. The committee’s analysis must also account for the increases in water levels and storm surge that will result from the dredging. JaxPort is also seeking $70 million from Jacksonville taxpayers to continue the dredging. Any funding the city may provide must be contingent upon much needed mitigation to offset the harm.
If Jacksonville taxpayers are going to subsidize this project, our elected leaders must make sure provisions are in place to fortify our river and our city.
Contact Mayor Lenny Curry and your City Council members and tell them we expect no less. Future generations and the St. Johns are relying on us to convince our elected leaders to do the right thing.
Marty Jones is chair of the St. Johns Riverkeeper Board of Directors.