Conservation Groups Challenge Unlawful Permit to Prevent Further Shoreline Damage
Washington, DC—Conservation groups have filed suit in federal court challenging the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers’ use of a permit that allows construction of bulkheads, seawalls, and other hardened structures to be built in waters of the United States without adequately assessing their environmental impact.
Nationwide Permit 13 authorizes the construction of bank stabilization structures along shorelines with little environmental review and without public notice and review. Unlike individual permits issued by the Corps, Nationwide Permit 13 allows structures to be built close to two football fields in length without requiring prior approval from the Corps. Nationwide Permit 13 is currently being used by the Corps to authorize approximately 17,500 structures between 2012 and 2017.
“Although these projects are designed to reduce erosion at specific sites, there is a lot of science showing that bulkheads and other structures accelerate erosion in our waters and destroy important shoreline habitat,” said Nate Hunt, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The negative effects are especially acute on our coasts as more cities, developers, and landowners are constructing bulkheads and sea walls to armor the shoreline in response to sea level rise.”
On behalf of the National Wildlife Federation, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, and Savannah Riverkeeper, the Southern Environmental Law Center has filed a lawsuit against the Corps in United States District Court in Washington, D.C, charging that the agency has violated federal law in failing to demonstrate that the projects authorized over the five-year period of the permit will only have minimal environmental effects as required by the Clean Water Act.
“The Corps’ use of Nationwide Permit 13 to rubber stamp the coastal armoring of our shorelines threatens important fish and wildlife habitat, including the nesting habitat of threatened and endangered sea turtles and shorebirds,” said Jan Goldman-Carter, senior manager and counsel with the National Wildlife Federation. “By requiring the Corps to carefully review the cumulative impacts of hardening shorelines and alternatives to these hard structures, we aim to encourage the use of living shorelines and other more natural approaches to decreasing erosion on our coastlines.”
As sea level rises, more coastlines are being armored by bank stabilization projects.
Coastlines fixed by hard structures prohibit wetlands, marshlands, various aquatic ecosystems, and beaches from migrating inland in response to sea level rise.
Rather than inhibiting erosion, these structures redirect the wave energy downward and cause the ground at the base of the structures to wear away. As the area in front of the structures disappears, important habitat is lost to species that depend on this land and water interface to survive.
“The cumulative effect of hardened structures on our coast is causing irreversible damage to the natural ecosystem, its processes and functions, such as fish nursery habitat and pollution control, and the recreational use of waterways,” said Ogeechee Riverkeeper Emily Markesteyn. “While we are not against any and all bank stabilization projects, we must ensure the Corps follows due diligence when assessing environmental impacts of these structures.”
Federal and state agencies, the conservation groups, and others filed extensive comments on the proposed permit, highlighting the scientific evidence on the significant environmental impact of shoreline armoring. The groups contend that the Corps failed to justify the use of Nationwide Permit 13 in the face of this scientific evidence.
“Our coastal regions are changing due to sea level rise, and development choices we make today can either help buffer us from the impacts, or worsen the impacts on ourselves and our neighbors,” said Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus. “The Corps must be diligent in ensuring the solutions it permits do not cause or allow undue harm on surrounding coastal properties.”
About the Southern Environmental Law Center:
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of nearly 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. www.SouthernEnvironment.org
About the National Wildlife Federation:
National Wildlife Federation is America's largest conservation organization inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children's future. Learn more at www.nwf.org.
About Ogeechee Riverkeeper:
Ogeechee RIVERKEEPER® exists for the Ogeechee, Canoochee, and coastal rivers, not the other way around. Accordingly, we measure our success not by totals of dues-paying members, dollars raised, or awards and recognitions, but by the quality of the water in the basin and the commitment of its citizens to protecting, preserving, and improving it. A hard-working, effective organization for the waters and people of the Ogeechee River basin: that is the vision for Ogeechee RIVERKEEPER®. www.ogeecheeriverkeeper.org
About Savannah Riverkeeper:
The Savannah Riverkeeper serves as the primary guardian of the Savannah River striving to respect, protect, and improve the entire river basin through education, advocacy, and action. We are a 501 c (3) non-profit organization funded by individuals and foundations that share our commitment to creating a clean and healthy river that sustains life and is cherished by its people. www.savannahriverkeeper.org