JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The St. Johns Riverkeeper filed a motion for preliminary injunction Monday, asking that a judge force the first phase of the St. Johns River harbor deepening project not begin until deficiencies in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' assessment of the impact on the river are addressed.
The Riverkeeper, Lisa Rinaman, said the new, 11-mile plan should be evaluated by the Corps to assess environmental impacts and the economic feasibility of the project before the dredging is allowed to proceed.
“This new 11-mile plan simply does not exist, according to the Army Corps,” Rinaman said. “Federal law requires JaxPort’s new plan to be thoroughly studied and evaluated, including the recalculation of the Benefit Cost Ration, yet nothing has been done by the Corps to fulfill this requirement.”
Rinaman said the Corps also failed to conduct a valid flood analysis, which presents an environmental risk. Additionally, there's no account for the negative impacts and costs to homes and businesses from future severe flooding, especially in light of significant storm-surge flooding in Downtown, San Marco and Riverside during Hurricane Irma.
“Failure to evaluate these impacts when we know that the dredging will likely increase storm surge and tide levels only puts our community and our river at greater risk and makes us more vulnerable in the future,” Rinaman said.
The Jacksonville Port Authority responded to the Riverkeeper's request reiterating that "the harbor deepening project represents Jacksonville’s single largest opportunity to grow the port, add good jobs and better our community."
"After a decade of study, independent review, public input and full regulatory approval, the time has come to start this project and bring new jobs and increased opportunity to the people of Jacksonville," JaxPort spokeswoman Nancy Rubin said in a statement to News4Jax.
The Corps also responded to the Riverkeeper's amended legal complaint, announcing plans to reopen the National Environmental Policy Act evaluation process to "consider whether the recent flooding conditions in the vicinity of the Jacksonville Harbor Navigation Project following the 2017 nor’easter and Hurricane Irma constitute significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concern sand bearing on the Jacksonville Harbor Navigation Project or its impacts.”
The Riverkeeper said the assessment should be completed before the project begins, not after.
“We have been unwavering in our position that the Corps underestimated the impacts from the dredging," Rinaman said. "The analysis is incomplete, and the proposed mitigation does nothing to protect our river. The fact that flooding impacts and a new 11-mile project have not even been evaluated further validates our concerns and reinforces the urgent need to fully vet the Deep Dredge before it’s too late to turn back."