USA: FOK Offers Mixed Reaction on Kansas River Dredging Decision
Friends of the Kaw (FOK), a conservation group focused on protecting the Kansas River, applauds a recent decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to revoke in May of this year the permits for three in-river dredging operations between Eudora and the Bowersock Dam in Lawrence.
However, FOK still has major concerns about the remaining seven in-river dredging operations, as well as the Corps’ plan for carrying out an environmental assessment.
“We are pleased that the Corps, due to unacceptable bed degradation, is moving three of ten dredge operations off the river,” said Laura Calwell, Kansas Riverkeeper for FOK. “We are also grateful that they are making such efforts to keep the public updated. Still, we think the Corps has plenty of scientific evidence to cease all dredging on the Kaw, right now.”
Instead, the Corps extended the remaining dredge site permits for one year, pending the outcome of an Environmental Assessment (EA) and possibly an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
“It is surprising that the Corps would ignore the clear evidence, including data from their own monitoring studies, that in-channel mining does in fact cause serious negative effects within the Kansas River,” said Melinda Daniels, professor of river geomorphology at Kansas State University. Daniels is also co-author of a major recent study that used Doppler technology to document significant riverbed damage from dredging.
“My hope,” added Daniels, “is that they are simply extending these permits for one year so that they may adequately organize and present the scientific and engineering data to demonstrate to the dredge operators why their in-channel mining operations should not be continued.”
FOK is also concerned about elements of the environmental assessment process. The Corps is not carrying out the assessment itself. Instead, the dredgers are paying a private consultant to provide a report that could serve as the basis for the Corps to write a draft EA.
“Through the NEPA process, the Corps of Engineers has an obligation to be skeptical about the conclusions of the dredgers’ hired consultants,” said Mark Dugan, FOK’s attorney. “The Corps needs to exercise independent judgment, and it should not simply define down what environmental impact is ‘significant.’ As a permitting agency, the Corps’ job is to protect and manage waters, not to protect the industry it’s regulating.”
“We are concerned that the dredgers paying for the draft report injects a troubling note into what otherwise appears to be an open, transparent, and impartial process that protects the public interest,” said Calwell.
Once the Corps issues the draft EA, they will then hold a thirty-day public comment period. They will also hold an open house for public reactions to the EA before developing a final version. However, if the Corps concludes in a “Finding of No Significant Impact” as a result of the EA process, then they will not pursue an Environmental Impact Statement. Instead, they would issue their final decision on the dredging permits.
“The EA is key to the dredging decision,” said Calwell. “Yet the EA is at risk of being compromised.”
Press Release, January 23, 2013