Environmental groups sue USACE over dredging policy

Environmental groups including Cape Fear River Watch, North Carolina Wildlife Federation and Defenders of Wildlife have filed a lawsuit over a new dredging policy at harbors on the Carolina coast.

They claim that federal authorities are using “flawed and incomplete” data to back up their activities.

“Due to the fact that hopper dredging operations kill and maim coastal wildlife and disturb their sensitive habitat, the Corps has historically conducted maintenance dredging at Wilmington and Morehead City Harbors during the winter months when federally protected sea turtles and sturgeon are far less abundant in North Carolina’s waters,” Southern Environmental Law Center said.

“The Corps has now decided to reverse course on its decades-old policy by allowing year-round maintenance dredging — including during the spring and summer months when sea turtles, sturgeon and commercially and recreationally important fishery resources are most vulnerable to harm. This spring is a prime example: available data indicates multiple turtles were killed when the Corps dredged Morehead City Harbor in June.”

“The Corps’ unjustified about-face will have dire consequences for coastal wildlife,” said Ramona McGee, staff attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “These historic seasonal restrictions on dredging have been in place for decades and supported by numerous scientific entities precisely because they work.”

The lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina alleges that USACE did not properly explain its reversal in agency practice under the Administrative Procedure Act and failed to conduct a full and accurate environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

The USACE’s year-round dredging plans go against strong concerns raised by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, and the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, said the Center.

Photo: USACE