St. Johns Riverkeeper injunction seeks to block Army Corps from dredging

The St. Johns River’s watchdog filed an injunction seeking to block the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from beginning its high-profile project to dredge Jacksonville’s harbor, citing recent changes to the deepening plan and prolific flooding caused by Hurricane Irma that need more study.

 

The St. Johns Riverkeeper filed the injunction Monday in part because its federal lawsuit challenging the dredging project is not expected to be resolved until at least the summer. The Riverkeeper faces an uphill battle on that lawsuit because courts generally give broad deference to government agencies.

The Riverkeeper essentially argues there are too many loose ends to begin the project.

The Jacksonville Port Authority rolled out a plan earlier this year to dredge 11 miles of the river from 40 to 47 feet, shortening the original 13-mile track that had been discussed for years. On the port’s end, that would require navigating complicated legal and financial matters with one of its major tenants.

The Corps, however, is moving forward as if nothing has changed.

The Riverkeeper has long argued the Corps’ environmental and economic studies of the 13-mile dredging project are inadequate. That is doubly true for a shortened 11-mile project, a point the injunction makes.

JaxPort officials say the shortened track would bring the cost of dredging down to $484 million, instead of the near $700 million estimated price tag for the 13-mile project. The Riverkeeper says the Corps has failed to figure out whether the shorter project has a cost-to-benefit ratio that passes muster.

Hurricane Irma also figures into the Riverkeeper’s injunction.

“In the wake of Hurricane Irma, the urgency and importance of assessing the potential flooding impacts from dredging is even more apparent,” Lisa Rinaman, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, said in a statement. “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.”

In a public notice filed Nov. 30, the Corps said it will consider whether the flooding caused by Irma “constitute significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the” dredging project.

Federal law requires the Corps to study environmental issues stemming from a navigation project of this kind, including its impact on storm surge.

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