Miami-Dade County

Federal judge reopens lawsuit over PortMiami expansion project

Miami Waterkeeper, Rachel Silverstein, takes a sample from coral. Under Silversteinâ’s direction she, and a small team of lawyers, sued the Army Corps of Engineers in October 2014 over dredge work at PortMiami. A federal judge reopened the lawsuit last week.
Miami Waterkeeper, Rachel Silverstein, takes a sample from coral. Under Silversteinâ’s direction she, and a small team of lawyers, sued the Army Corps of Engineers in October 2014 over dredge work at PortMiami. A federal judge reopened the lawsuit last week.

A Florida federal judge has granted a request from environmentalists to reopen their lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the now-completed dredge work project in PortMiami.

U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno reopened the case nearly a month after a motion was filed by the Miami-Dade Reef Guard Association. The volunteer organization is looking for the judge to declare that the Corps violated the Endangered Species Act for an illegal “taking” of staghorn corals and “the unlawful destruction of their designated critical habitat,” Miami Waterkeeper executive director Rachel Silverstein wrote in an email.

“We’re pleased that the court agreed to reopen the case, over the objection of the Corps, who seemed to want to delay the court’s determination by asking for an indefinite hold on the case,” Silverstein wrote.

The Corps declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The association — which partnered with the Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper group, Tropical Audubon and Capt. Dan Kipnis in the original 2014 lawsuit — also cited findings from the National Marine Fisheries Service, another federal agency that found extensive reef damage after the project.

The Service found that not only more coral than estimated was killed, but sediment had drifted to create a moonscape covering just under a half mile of coral on either side. While the Corps said coral died because of disease, activists are concerned that the same mistakes will be made in a similar project in Port Everglades.

“We do want to ensure that the corals are protected during the dredging,” Silverstein wrote. “So far, the Corps has failed to acknowledge the harm it has caused to Miami's reefs and to correct its mistakes for the Port Everglades dredging plans.”

The case has been stalled since November 2015 to allow for mediation, but settlement talks fell through on June 6.

Environmentalists first sued in October 2014, arguing that the Corps was not doing enough to protect the reef or the coral that had grown since the last time it was dredged 40 years ago. The $205 million “Deep Dredge” at the port was completed in September 2015, deepening the channel by more than 50 feet to make way for bigger ships sailing through the expanded Panama Canal.

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