SELC continues to challenge Corps’ lenient permit for harmful seawalls

SELC is challenging a streamlined permitting process for bulkheads, like this one in Buxton, North Carolina, because they often exacerbate the very erosion problems they were constructed to solve. (© Carol Vandyke)

SELC is continuing to push back against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Nationwide Permit 13, a lax general permit authorizing the construction of bulkheads, seawalls, and other hardening structures along shorelines with little environmental review and without public notice.

In response to sea level rise, more bank stabilization projects like bulkheads and sea walls are being constructed to armor shorelines against erosion. Although these projects are designed to reduce erosion at specific sites, scientific studies show that bulkheads and other structures actually accelerate erosion and destroy important shoreline habitat by directing wave energy downward, causing the ground at the base of the structures to wear away.

Unlike individual permits issued by the Corps, Nationwide Permit 13 (NWP 13) allows structures to be built close to two football fields in length without requiring prior approval from the Corps. NWP 13 is currently being used by the Corps to authorize approximately 17,500 structures proposed between 2012 and 2017.

On behalf of the National Wildlife Federation, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, and Savannah Riverkeeper, SELC has been in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging NWP 13 since 2014. In the underlying case, SELC has asked the Court to vacate NWP 13 and instead require the Corps to carefully review each proposed project. In response to a recent adverse ruling, SELC has filed a motion for reconsideration.

“As our coastal regions are changing due to sea level rise, armoring our coastlines is causing irreversible damage to natural ecosystems and important shoreline habitat—this is not a sustainable solution,” said SELC Senior Attorney Bill Sapp. “The Corps must follow due diligence when assessing environmental impacts of these structures, and we are asking that these projects require individual review to prevent additional harm to surrounding coastlines.”

The Corps will soon release its draft permit for the next iteration of NWP 13, slated to go into effect in 2017. SELC and our partners plan to file public comments to strengthen permit requirements, including guidelines for considering living shorelines projects as a natural alternative to bulkheads.

Read our motion for reconsideration here.

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