Deep Dredge Ruling Update: On May 26, 2020, a federal judge ruled against our April 2017 lawsuit and our attempt to fortify the river from the negative impacts of deepening of the St. Johns.
“We are a River economy. Jobs and our community depend on a healthy St Johns. We need to find the balance. We have to make good choices sooner rather than later. That’s what we’ve been hoping to achieve and making sure our River doesn’t pay the price. Every time we deepen our River it hurts us.”
– Lisa Rinaman, Your St. Johns Riverkeeper, on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross | May 28, 2020
This ruling does nothing to change the fact the dredging will cause more saltwater intrusion, destroy and damage critical wetlands and submerged vegetation, and increase water levels and storm surge in the River.
We knew heading into this that the odds were stacked against us and our River. The burden of proof weighs heavy and the law provides wide latitude to the Army Corps in these types of legal matters. But we also knew that we had sound legal arguments and an experienced legal team, legitimate scientific concerns regarding the shortcomings of the Corps’ analysis (many of which were shared by the independent peer review experts and local scientists), and the best interests of the River in mind.
While this ruling undoubtedly stings, our efforts have certainly not been in vain – and we will continue our efforts to make our River more resilient.
Because of our advocacy and outreach work …
- More post-project monitoring and data will now be collected that can be used to identify potential impacts, better understand the River and hold regulatory agencies accountable.
- We’ve led the way regarding the impact of rising waters in the River and the need for resiliency and mitigation. Through our River Rising campaign that continues today, there is strong public support to create a more resilient community and to protect our River.
- The City of Jacksonville is currently developing strategies to address rising waters, and there is still an opportunity to secure funding for mitigation.
Judge Howard said the decision to deepen the river “in the face of Jacksonville’s existing flood risk” is up to elected officials, not something a federal court is allowed to second-guess or “substitute its own judgment on that issue.”
In the News:
- Federal Judge Rejects Riverkeeper’s Bid to Halt St. Johns River Deepening, Florida Times-Union | May 27, 2020
- Costs of blind river dredging won’t be known until it’s too late, Florida Times-Union | May 27, 2020
- WJCT 89.9 First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross | May 28, 2020 | Listen to the Conversation
Take Action for a more Resilient St. Johns River!
For more than 8 years, St. Johns Riverkeeper has sought a balanced approach to JAXPORT’s project to deepen the St. Johns that would protect our River. Unfortunately, the deep dredge is underway and putting our river and our community at risk.
With rising sea levels and a warming planet, the dredging only makes us more vulnerable to saltwater intrusion, toxic algal blooms and flooding.
Despite these risks and no mitigation to offset these impacts, the Jacksonville City Council has been asked to provide $70 million to this project. It is critical that our elected leaders do not ignore the projected damage and ensure that safeguards are in place.
Speaking of a judge recently ruling against the @SJRiverkeeper's attempt to halt the dredging of the St. Johns River, Blankinship says the committee should consider impacts of that project, which includes potentially worse flooding & higher storm surge.https://t.co/RNhbH6KssZ— Brendan Rivers (@BrendanRivers) May 28, 2020
The St. Johns River resembles the Atlantic Ocean more than at any other time in its past: The currents are faster, the water is saltier and the tidal range can be more extreme. Hurricane Irma demonstrated that a Category 1 storm can cause a shocking 150-year flood, sending salty seawater gushing into our streets and neighborhoods due to decisions made in the past and the failure to invest in resiliency and mitigation strategies today. The combined impacts from decades of dredging, sea level rise, and outdated infrastructure demand that we take action immediately to protect our river and our community.
As the Ocean Creeps In is a Special Report written by reporters Nate Monroe and Christopher Hong of the Florida Times-Union in May 2018. This investigative report underscored how historic straightening, channelizing and dredging have impacted the St. Johns River. Based on these findings and ongoing concerns, St. Johns RIVERKEEPER enacted a series of River Rising Town Halls in 2018. These events were designed as a way to inform local citizens about rising waters and continue a dialogue about the flooding that threatens our economy, the river, our homes, businesses, recreation, and health.
It is critical that have a community conversation about these issues and act now. Otherwise, we will become even more vulnerable as waters continue to rise, flooding becomes more frequent, public infrastructure fails, and our river is further degraded by more sewage and pollution. – Lisa Rinaman, your St. Johns Riverkeeper.
Here are just some of the findings the Florida Times-Union Special Report highlighted:
- The tidal range — the difference between high tide and low tide — has increased over many decades, based on dredging, straightening and channelizing.
- When a river is dredged to a uniform depth, the natural features that can suck energy out of incoming waves — underwater sand dunes, rocks, grass beds — are eliminated. That makes it more like a smooth road with less resistance, allowing storm surges to impact areas further upriver.
- Greater depth can also explain why saltwater moves farther inland. In a deep river, heavier saltwater on the bottom mixes less with the fresh top layer, meaning there is less resistance to bottom-layer saltwater as it moves inland.
- The latest 7-foot dredging project could increase water levels in a 100-year storm surge by 3 to 6 inches in the main stem of the river, and by 8 inches in areas closer to the ocean.
It was only a matter of inches that saved some neighbors from thousands of dollars in damage while causing others to flood. Locally, the Northeast Florida Regional Council has recommended that we plan for rising waters of 1’ – 3’ by 2060 and 3’ – 6’ by 2110.
River Rising Town Halls
Hurricane Irma flooded homes and businesses, caused severe damage to public infrastructure, and left a toxic soup of sewage, chemicals, and debris in its wake. Despite the wakeup call, most elected leaders were doing very little following the storm to make our communities less vulnerable in the future.
ST. JOHNS RIVERKEEPER responded with a series of town hall meetings to raise awareness about the impacts of dredging and rising waters, spark dialogue about what we need to do to become more resilient, and encourage our leaders to act. Audiences overwhelmingly expressed concerns about the impacts of dredging and rising water levels in the St. Johns and the lack of action by elected officials.
Here is our direct action impact from the River Rising Town Halls:
- More than 900 people attended our nine Town Halls.
- Over 1,000 postcards were mailed to City leaders asking them to take action now to protect again the next big storm.
- Over 900 petition signatures were made asking the City of Jacksonville to demand more mitigation if the St. Johns River deep dredge is to move forward.
And we didn’t stop after hosting our Town Halls. If any group or organization wants a condensed presentation on continued “River UPRising” actions, contact Shannon@stjohnsriverkeeper.org. So far, we have been able to continue the conversation reaching more than 1,000 people at over a dozen talks and presentations in Duval, St. Johns, and Clay Counties.