Hurricane Irma caused flood impacts along the St. Johns River in September 2017
On December 4, 2017, St. Johns RIVERKEEPER filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction to postpone the first phase of the impending St. Johns River harbor deepening project until significant deficiencies in the studies by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) are addressed and resolved in order to protect our river and our community.
In 2013, the Corps authorized a plan by JaxPort to deepen the last 13 miles of the St. Johns River channel from 40 to 47 feet to accommodate larger Post-Panamax ships. Earlier this year, JAXPORT announced a new plan to dredge 11 miles of the channel, instead of 13 miles, in an apparent effort to reduce the cost of the project.
St. Johns RIVERKEEPER contends that the new 11-mile plan must be formally evaluated by the Army Corps of Engineers to fully assess environmental impacts and the economic feasibility of the project before federal funding can be authorized and dredging is allowed to proceed.
“This new 11-mile plan simply does not exist according to the Army Corps,” states Lisa Rinaman, the St. Johns Riverkeeper. “Federal law requires JaxPort’s new plan to be thoroughly studied and evaluated, including the recalculation of the Benefit Cost Ration (BCR), yet nothing has been done by the Corps to fulfill this requirement.”
In addition, the Army Corps failed to conduct a valid flood analysis, despite the fact that their own study predicts an increase of up to a foot in storm surge and tide levels
in some areas due to the dredging. The lack of analysis not only presents a potential environmental risk, but also does not take into account the negative impacts and costs to homes and businesses from more severe flooding.
“In the wake of Hurricane Irma, the urgency and importance of assessing the potential flooding impacts from dredging is even more apparent,” explains Rinaman. “Failure to evaluate these impacts when we know that the dredging will likely increase storm surge and tide levels only puts our community and our river at greater risk and makes us more vulnerable in the future.”
On a November 30, 2017, the Army Corps responded to St. Johns RIVERKEPER’s amended legal complaint by announcing plans to reopen the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) evaluation process to “consider whether the recent flooding conditions in the vicinity of the Jacksonville Harbor Navigation Project following the 2017 nor’easter and Hurricane Irma constitute significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the Jacksonville Harbor Navigation Project or its impacts.”
You can submit comments regarding flooding impacts to Paul Stodola at firstname.lastname@example.org by December 30, 2017. Comments can also be mailed to Paul Stadola at Jacksonville District Corps of Engineers, 701 San Marco Blvd., Jacksonville 32207-8175.
While representing an important step toward addressing a major deficiency in the Corps’ analysis, this critical assessment of flooding impacts must be completed before the project begins, not after the fact.
Federal law requires the Corps to address all potential impacts, including mitigation, and to incorporate the anticipated costs into the final project Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR). The BCR is utilized to evaluate the economic feasibility of a project and determine eligibility for federal funding.
“We have been unwavering in our position that the Corps underestimated the impacts from the dredging, the analysis is incomplete, and the proposed mitigation does nothing to protect our river. The fact that flooding impacts and a new 11-mile project have not even been evaluated further validates our concerns and reinforces the urgent need to fully vet the Deep Dredge before it’s too late to turn back,” summarizes Rinaman.
Click here to read the Motion for Injunction.
Contact St. Johns RIVERKEEPER with questions at (904) 256-7591