A former biologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who worked on the dredging of Port Miami pleaded guilty to lying about working part-time for a contractor whose work on the project she was supposed to oversee, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement Friday.
Tracey Jordan-Sellers, a civilian employee with the Corps’ Jacksonville District, was charged in May with lying to investigators at the U.S. Department of Defense about working part-time with an environmental consultant hired for the project. From 2014, when dredging started, through February this year, while employed by the Corps, Jordan-Sellers agreed to work with the company on three projects, the statement said. She was part of a team that oversaw the consulting firm’s work related to ``large dredging projects in South Florida.’’ The statement didn’t reveal the name of the company.
``Part of her responsibilities included planning and coordinating environmental requirements related to Army Corps projects and reviewing products from environmental consulting companies,’’ the Miami U.S. Attorney’s office said in the statement. She began working for the agency in 2001 and is no longer employed there.
``My client made a mistake that she really regrets,’’ said Paul Petruzzi, the attorney representing Jordan-Sellers. ``She resigned from her position with the Army Corps and is moving on to the next chapter in her life.’’
If convicted, the biologist may face up to five years in prison. She is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 19.
The dredging at Port Miami deepened parts of the channel to up to 50 feet to allow for bigger ships that sail through the Panama Canal. The $205 million project came under fire from environmentalists who claim the work killed and damaged more coral than the levels allowed in the environmental permit for the work.
The Corps is planning to re-dredge Port Miami and expand Port Everglades, but recent findings by scientists about coral death will likely increase scrutiny of the projects.
A study published last month in the scientific journal Marine Pollution Bulletin said the Corps grossly miscalculated the damage caused to corals after it scooped up tons of sand from the bottom of Biscayne Bay during the 16-month project. The study, which used data collected by the Corps during the project, found more than a half million corals were killed when plumes of sediment smothered them.
Dial Cordy, an environmental consulting company hired by the Corps to assess the damage, reported that just six corals were killed by the dredge work.