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Corps of Engineers commits to new studies before Port Everglades dredging begins

Environmental Issues // January 25, 2017

Miami Waterkeeper reports that the US Army Corps of Engineers 'has agreed to go back to square one' and conduct new environmental studies before starting its planned dredging project to expand Port Everglades. The Corps’ dredging project at Port Everglades aims to make way for larger, 'post-Panamax' vessels.

While the Corps conducts new studies, plaintiffs, including environmental organizations and America’s largest trade organization for recreational divers, have agreed to put a temporary hold on their federal Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act lawsuit over the planned dredging. "The Corps’ dredging plan failed to account for damage to nearby, fragile coral reefs," said Miami Riverkeeper.

"The corps has agreed to reassess its Port Everglades environmental analysis because of new environmental information available about the widespread and unanticipated damage incurred during a similar dredging project at nearby PortMiami and new, local coral species recently added to the federal Endangered Species Act list.

"In Miami the dredging proved disastrous for the coral reefs in the area. For the PortMiami project, the Corps had assumed there would be minimal impacts to coral, but instead fine-grained sediment from the project harmed tens of thousands of coral colonies and over 250 acres of reef designated as 'critical habitat' for the Endangered Species Act-listed staghorn corals.

"The National Marine Fisheries Service assessed the area and determined that 95 percent of the surveyed reef is no longer suitable habitat for corals, and some of the damaged reef will never recover naturally."

“The devastating coral damage discovered after the PortMiami dredging gives us all pause. It is a good reason for the Corps to go back to the drawing board and to learn from its mistakes in Miami,” said Brettny Hardy, an attorney at Earthjustice, lawyers for plaintiffs in the case. “Under the law, a proper analysis must be done before further taxpayer dollars are spent on this potentially devastating project.”

The Port Everglades dredging, which was planned to begin in 2017, is now expected to be on hold until at least 2019 while the new environmental analyses are conducted.

“The Corps’ and NMFS’ prior environmental analyses simply ignored evidence from PortMiami that showed estimated impacts from dredging near corals are significantly more harmful and widespread than expected.” said Rachel Silverstein, executive director and waterkeeper of Miami Waterkeeper. “The current environmental statements do not reflect ‘best available science,’ which is the legal standard for agency decision-making, and therefore, they must be redone.”

“Coral and coastal Floridians will benefit from the Corps pumping the brakes on this massive project,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We have to learn from our mistakes and do what’s right for our irreplaceable coastal resources.”

“We will remain vigilant as this process moves forward to ensure full compliance with the law and protection of our irreplaceable coral reefs,” said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation.

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