Army Corps: Deepening Blount Island berths won't impact environment

Riverkeeper

By Tarik Minor - Anchor, I-TEAM reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - An Army Corps of Engineers study of plans to deepen the area around JaxPort's Blount Island terminal finds the project would have no significant impact on the St. Johns River or nearby habitat.

But the St. Johns Riverkeeper calls the Corps' study incomplete, saying the project will have a substantial effect on wildlife and the environment.

Dredging is underway to deepen 13 miles of the river between the Atlantic Ocean and Blount Island in order to accommodate larger cargo ships. Engineers said they'll remove the equivalent of more than 1.6 million dump truck loads of dirt to deepen the shipping channel from 40 to 47 feet.

According to a letter from the Army Corps received Thursday by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, the corps wrote, "Deepening of the berths would not result in significant impacts to the human environment."

DOCUMENT: Corps of Engineers Environmental Assessment

Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman said she's not buying the Army Corps' findings, saying it has a long history of underestimating environmental impacts.

"It is simply premature and irresponsible to think that there will be no significant impacts with so many loose ends," Rinaman said.

The loose ends Rinaman refers to are two separate studies that she says are not complete. She says the endangered species study and one by the National Marine Fisheries Service haven't been finalized yet. 

"Not only are the environmental assessment(s) not complete for wildlife, they also focus on protecting habitats, the grasslands and the wetlands. So to make this determination without critical studies complete is irresponsible," Rinaman said.

Rinaman added that shoreline erosion as the result of unusually high wakes created by the bigger ships is just one of several unforeseen effects of the deeper river and berths, but according to thne Army Corps' report, these factors were taken into consideration before concluding there will be no environmental impact.  

News4Jax asked the Corps to respond to Rinaman's criticism of the report but we have not received a reply by the end of the day Wednesday.

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