Environment

Port Everglades dredging on hold while Corps reworks environmental study

The $374 million Port Everglades dredging has been put on hold while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reworks an assessment of potential environmental damage caused by deepening the channel to 50 feet.
The $374 million Port Everglades dredging has been put on hold while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reworks an assessment of potential environmental damage caused by deepening the channel to 50 feet. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will delay a dredging project for Port Everglades while it takes another look at potential environmental damage, according to federal court filings last week.

The decision comes after environmentalists and recreational divers sued last year, saying the Corps relied on the same faulty assessment that left a mile-wide swath of dead coral around the PortMiami dredge, far more than originally predicted in the $205 million project completed last year.

The Corps said the dredging, which had been expected to start this year, will now likely be delayed until at least summer 2019 while the agency considers “new environmental information” and new protections given to five rare corals that might be damaged by the massive dredge. The Corps, under last week’s ruling, will also provide the court with progress reports on work every 90 days.

Corps officials said they always planned to update the Port Everglades environmental study as needed, but environmentalists called the decision a victory in their legal battle.

It’s hard to know the full scope of their intentions, but [the Corps] for years had been relying on outdated environmental assessments and they didn’t do anything until we announced our intent to sue.

Miami Waterkeeper Rachel Silverstein

“It’s hard to know the full scope of their intentions, but [the Corps] for years had been relying on outdated environmental assessments and they didn’t do anything until we announced our intent to sue,” said Miami Waterkeeper Rachel Silverstein.

The $374 million Port Everglades dredge will deepen the channel from 42 to 50 feet and widen its entrance to make way for massive new ships sailing through an expanded Panama Canal. Scooping up so much bottom from the channel and depositing it at dump sites off the coast risks spreading fine silt over sensitive corals. For its environmental assessment, the Corps relied on the same methods used to estimate how much damage similar dredge work caused in PortMiami.

$374 millionThe price for deepening and widening Port Everglades

The agency typically reuses information in projects, a practice implemented “years ago,” Corps spokeswoman Susan Jackson said in an email.

“This prevents duplication, increases efficiency, and reduces expenditure of tax dollars,” she said.

But Silverstein pointed out that the Corps never publicly announced it planned on redoing the assessment.

“There was no public notice of that before we filed our notice of intent to sue,” she said.

Estimates on the potential damage to coral in the PortMiami dredge turned out to be largely inaccurate. But even when environmental regulators and environmentalists complained that more coral was being damaged, the Corps continued the dredge, landing the project in court. For Port Everglades, work had been slated to begin in 2017. The Corps now says, according to the court filing, the new survey will likely not be complete until July 2018, with work expected to begin in June 2019.

Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich

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