Permit violations and Endangered Species Act violations threaten the health of Biscayne Bay
Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper, along with our partners Tropical Audubon Society, Coral Morphologic, Captain Dan Kipnis, Sierra Club Miami Group, and Miami-Dade Reef Rescue, filed a citizens’ notice of suit letter alleging that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the Endangered Species Act, in addition to several permit conditions by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) during the PortMiami Deep Dredge project. That permit requires that the Army Corps take certain steps to mitigate the environmental impact of the dredging project. The Army Corps has not followed through on a number of these requirements, however, which threatens our water quality, coral reefs, seagrasses and marine ecosystem.
If the Army Corps damages more reef than anticipated, it is Miami-Dade County who must pay for additional mitigation. This would further stretch the resources of an already financially-pinched government body, and would mean that Miami-Dade tax payers must pay twice: foot the bill for the Army Corps’ mess, and have our important marine life destroyed.
How exactly has the Army Corps failed to follow by the rules?
Failure to follow Endangered Species Act procedures
The Army Corps identified 10-times the expected amount of threatened staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) in the area before starting construction. However, the Army Corps never obtained the needed documentation from NOAA to address best practices for dealing with additional corals, nor did they transplant, begin monitoring of, or increase protection for, any of these threatened corals in high risk areas. No one knows how these threatened corals are surviving the dredging.
Failure to monitor sedimentation adequately
The sediment blocks used to measure sedimentation by the Army Corps have not been working since Day 1 of the project (which Army Corps acknowledges). Therefore, we have no way to monitor sedimentation, and no baseline data is available for comparison with future monitoring. A chronic exposure abundance of sedimentation can stress and kill corals and seagrasses.
Failure to address significant coral stress
The Army Corps has failed to move its dredge ships away from reef areas when coral stress is noted, as required by their permit. These corals will likely not survive the duration of this project with this level of sedimentation stress. Ongoing, partial coral mortality has already been observed for several months.
Failure to accurately monitor turbidity
The permit requires sampling of turbidity (suspended sediment that makes the water look milky) in the densest part of the turbidity plume. However, we have found evidence that this is not occurring. This high turbidity is affecting water quality for fishermen, divers, beachgoers, corals and seagrasses from Miami Beach to Key Biscayne.
Failure to prevent sediment from leaking during transportation
The hopper barges transport dredged material from the site to an offshore
dumping area. However, we have photographs showing a trail of leaking sediments behind the hopper barge. These sediments are falling out and covering of a vast area of reef and hardbottom.
In order to stop the significant damage to Biscayne Bay and nearby waters, we are asking only that the Army Corps comply with their permit requirements and follow Federal laws. We are asking for better oversight and enforcement by DEP and more transparency from the Army Corps moving forward.
Join us in standing up for our reefs and natural resources!