Guest Column By Lisa Rinaman, Florida Times-Union 4.19.16
Recently, St. Johns Riverkeeper filed a legal petition to challenge the state permit for the deep dredge of the St. Johns River.
We did so, because the permit and the proposed project fail to protect our river from the likely damage that will occur from removing 18 million cubic yards of rock and sediment to deepen the river from 40 to 47-feet.
The dredging will result in harmful sedimentation, erosion and shoaling and cause salt water to move farther upstream. The increase in salinity will likely damage or destroy hundreds of acres of wetlands, submerged grasses, and trees in parts of the river and its tributaries, such as Julington Creek and Ortega River. Critical habitat for fisheries and pollution filters for our river will be lost in the process.
For nearly four years, St. Johns Riverkeeper has diligently focused on holding the Army Corps of Engineers accountable by seeking a thorough evaluation and protective plan for our river. We have also worked with the Army Corps, JaxPort, the Chamber, and community leaders to seek sufficient mitigation to offset the significant damage that is likely to occur.
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.
For those familiar with the track record of the Army Corps, the necessity of this legal action will come as no surprise. The Corps has a long history of overestimating benefits, while underestimating the costs and environmental impacts. The tragic results of the recent dredging in Biscayne Bay serve as a vivid example of the potential for error in the Corps’ analysis and why a robust mitigation plan is so critical.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrative recently said the dredging of Biscayne Bay resulted in damage to the coral reefs that “greatly exceeds” the Corps projections by up to 10 times.
There is no question that the Port plays an important role in our local economy. However, we don’t have to sacrifice the health of the St. Johns for the port to remain viable. This highly speculative megaproject would put our river and taxpayers at great risk, without a sufficient plan to offset the damage from dredging or resolve unintended consequences, like those that occurred in Biscayne Bay. Simply put, we can’t afford to roll the dice with the future of our region’s most important natural resource. A clean and healthy St. Johns is the only sure bet that will sustain our community and our economy for generations to come.