News | June 20, 2012

SELC Holds Off Threat to Virginia’s Back Bay

In a victory for Back Bay, a biologically rich estuary just south of Virginia Beach, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers failed to comply with federal law when it approved a commercial marina at the doorstep of the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Citing another recent SELC win in the Fourth Circuit, the judges found that the Corps should have conducted a full environmental review of the project, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

Instead, the Corps gave the marina a green light without looking thoroughly at its impacts, including the toll of motorized boat traffic on underwater grasses that provide food, shelter, and nesting grounds for fish and shellfish.

According to the court’s ruling, the Corps’s conclusion that the marina would have no significant impacts was impermissibly based on the agency’s adoption of a no-wake zone that is unmarked and that the Corps, by its own admission, has no capacity to enforce. The judges compared the Corps’s “hopefulness” that boaters would voluntarily abide by an unmarked no-wake zone to leaving a bowl of candy on the porch on Halloween and hoping trick-or-treaters will take only their fair share.