Environmental Policy News

Port Everglades Expansion Could Be Delayed By New Environmental Review

"The long-awaited expansion of Port Everglades appears likely to be delayed for a new study of the project's likely damage to coral. The new study comes as a result of a lawsuit by environmental groups against the Army Corps of Engineers, which the groups said understated the environmental impact of dredging the port.

Plans call for dredging the Port Everglades entrance channel from 42 feet to 48 feet, plus a two-foot safety and maintenance margin, as well as widening the channel and making other upgrades. The work is intended to keep the port competitive as larger ships come through the widened Panama Canal and rival U.S. ports expand.

The $374 million cost will be split among the federal government and the port, drawing on user fees, with a small share coming from the state.

Exactly how long the work could be delayed was not clear. Environmental groups say the delay could push back the start of construction from 2017 to 2019. But the Army Corps of Engineers would not confirm that, saying that there had not been a firm start date. Port Everglades has said the project wasn't planned to start until late 2018. It is expected to be completed between 2021 and 2023.

Plaintiffs in the suit were Miami Waterkeeper, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Florida Wildlife Federation, and the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association. Susan Jackson, spokeswoman for the Corps of Engineers, said the groups were exaggerating the impact of the review, saying it was looking at a few specific areas of concern and was not a complete repeat of the original environmental impact statement.

The port expansion, done in partnership with the Broward County Commission, is expected to destroy 21 acres of coral reef and damage a larger area. The damage would be "mitigated" by the creation of artificial reefs, to which corals in the project area would be relocated, and through planting nursery-raised corals on existing reefs.

With the amount of coral damage now in question, the Corps says it will conduct an additional environmental review, working with the National Marine Fisheries Service and taking into account lessons learned from the Miami expansion.

The Corps plans to study the likely transport of sedimentation from the project, which could bury coral and which had been a factor in the coral damage in Miami. The National Marine Fisheries Service will restudy the impact on coral, taking into accounts local species that recently received protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Corps will conduct further monitoring in Miami, which should yield information on the likely impact to coral at Port Everglades.

As part of the additional environmental review, the Corps will hold public meetings Feb. 22 at the Broward County Convention Center, 1950 Eisenhower Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. There will be presentations at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., followed by a question and comment periods. Source: SunSentinel.

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