Environment

Faulty Corps ‘fact’ sheet on Port Everglades dredge drawing fire

Diver Dan Burdeno photographed these staghorn coral in February about 2,500 feet from the Port Everglades channel. Environmentalists worry a survey of coral that could be damaged by a dredging project overlooked these colonies.
Diver Dan Burdeno photographed these staghorn coral in February about 2,500 feet from the Port Everglades channel. Environmentalists worry a survey of coral that could be damaged by a dredging project overlooked these colonies. Miami Waterkeeper

In advance of a $374 million dredging project at Port Everglades, the U.S. Corps of Engineers published a fact sheet last month to help the public understand the work and risks posed to coral and other marine life.

But it turns out some answers in the Frequently Asked Questions section were wrong or incomplete. A photograph reportedly showing healthy coral after the PortMiami dredge was actually taken six months before dredging started. And a description of the Corps’ efforts in Miami, which it plans on replicating in Fort Lauderdale, said the agency followed environmental rules. But during the work in Miami, the Corps was repeatedly warned by federal and state wildlife agencies that dredging the port had killed far more coral than allowed under a permit and needed to be corrected.

After Miami Waterkeeper — which threatened to sue to get the Corps to revise its assessment of potential damage — complained, the Corps removed the FAQ.

But the agency never alerted the public about the mistake and, with a public comment period slated to end Monday, Miami Waterkeeper says time is running out to provide a clear understanding of how the Port Everglades dredge could impact marine life in and around the busy channel.

The whole point of this process is they’re suppose to be examining lessons learned.

Miami Waterkeeper executive director Rachel Silverstein

“Lessons learned from Port Miami were supposed to be the impetus for why they were revisiting the Port Everglades work,” said executive director Rachel Silverstein. “The whole point of this process is they’re suppose to be examining lessons learned.”

Corps spokeswoman Susan Jackson said in an email the Corps intends to correct the fact sheet, which was distributed at a meeting in February and posted on the agency’s web site. But she declined to say what corrections would be made or if they would be issued before Monday, citing ongoing litigation in federal court.

The Corps and environmentalists have long been at odds over dredging South Florida ports, with environmentalists repeatedly suing to clean up work that damaged coral in an area five times bigger than the Corps estimated. Coral are important because they provide habitat for wildlife, drum up tourism and offer a protective barrier to hurricanes and sea rise. In Miami, the Corps failed to fully tally the potential damage to coral and then, when coral began dying as more than 5 million cubic feet of bay bottom was being scooped up and dumped offshore site, did nothing to improve monitoring work, environmentalists said.

Critics say at Port Everglades, where snook have been photographed breeding and endangered staghorn coral grow nearby, the Corps risks making the same mistakes.

In addition, they worry about the accuracy of the Corps’ documentation. Along with the incorrectly dated photograph published on the fact sheet, earlier this year the Corps filed another photograph of healthy coral with the court in the ongoing case over the Miami dredge project. It turned out to be a 25-year-old picture of staghorn coral in the Cayman Islands. The Corps, in its filing, had claimed it was taken last October in Miami.

Worried that the Corps would move forward on the Port Everglades dredge without addressing the problems revealed in Miami, Waterkeeper, Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, the Florida Wildlife Federation and Sea Experience threatened to sue. They backed off the lawsuit in January after the Corps agreed to redo the environmental study.

Despite that deal, the FAQ said the Miami dredge caused no excessive damage. The Corps reported coral surveys are so far inconclusive. The agency also blamed suggestions that it had caused excessive damage on “critics of the Miami deepening [who] have made numerous statements that overstate the extent and degree of the project’s effects.”

Those critics, Silverstein, pointed out, include the federal and state agencies in charge of regulating the dredge. A June study by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists warned the Corps risked repeating “avoidable” damage if it failed to fix its methods.

Notifying the public, Silverstein said, is also a relatively simple step: most attendees sign in and receive regular emails.

“Ideally that would make sense,” she said. “They specifically stated one of their major goals is to improve transparency with the public.”

Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich

  Comments