Press Release | February 18, 2010

Army Corps Fails to Protect 500 Acres of Wetlands Near Charleston

Conservation groups today notified the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of their intent to challenge its decision that no permits are required under the federal Clean Water Act before the development of approximately 500 acres of South Carolina wetlands in Black Tom Bay, about 36 miles northwest of downtown Charleston and within the Ashley River watershed. The wetlands are connected to U.S. waterways and therefore protected wetlands under the Clean Water Act, according to the 60 day notice of intent from the Southern Environmental Law Center and National Wildlife Federation on behalf of the Coastal Conservation League, National Wildlife Federation, and South Carolina Wildlife Federation.
“Confusion in the law has left these 500 acres of wetlands and thousands like it vulnerable to destruction despite their vital benefits to communities,” said Chris DeScherer, attorney, Southern Environmental Law Center. “South Carolina and the nation are losing wetlands at staggering rates which means we’re also losing our natural water filtration systems, storm buffers, and wildlife habitat.”

Recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings have created confusion over which wetlands and streams are protected by the federal Clean Water Act and, for many wetlands, essentially left it to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to decide the issue on a case-by-case basis. In February 2007, the Corps determined that all 492 acres of wetlands on the site are isolated and therefore not protected by federal law. An investigation by the public interest groups bringing suit indicates that the wetlands qualify for federal protection because they are hydrologically connected with the Ashley River and provide significant benefits to the area, including flood storage, water purification, and habitat for wildlife and recreation.

“We hope the that the Corps will take a second look because there is a lot of evidence here that these wetlands should be covered by federal law,” said Nancy Vinson, director of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League’s Air, Water, and Public Health Programs.

Wetlands improve water quality, buffer storms, and act as freshwater reservoirs and habitat for fish, shellfish and migratory birds. When hurricanes batter the coast, wetlands are the first line of defense for communities. They absorb excess rainwater and filter runoff in downpours. When drought threatens, wetlands are important natural reservoirs. These benefits will be increasingly important for South Carolina as the climate changes and flooding events and storm surges likely increase in frequency and intensity.
“Climate change will make the flood storage, pollutant filtration, flow recharge and habitat provisions headwater wetlands play all the more vital to people and wildlife,” said Jim Murphy, attorney for the National Wildlife Federation. “This case is just an illustration of the need for Congress to fully restore protection to America’s waters.”

In providing today’s notice of intent to challenge the Corps’ determination, the Southern Environmental Law Center represents the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, the National Wildlife Federation, and the S.C. Wildlife Federation. National Wildlife Federation is serving as co-counsel on the case.
“We have the laws on the books to keep our waters clean,” said Ben Gregg, South Carolina Wildlife Federation. “It’s unfortunate that citizens have to resort to lawsuits to ensure that environmental protections are maintained.”

The Environmental Protection Agency is also named in the suit for failing in its responsibility to ensure the proper decision. Upon receipt of the notice, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA have 60 days to re-consider its determination and compliance with Clean Water Act requirements. If, at the close of 60 days, sufficient action has not been taken, the conservation groups will file a lawsuit in the U.S District Court for the District of South Carolina.

About South Carolina Coastal Conservation League The Coastal
Conservation League is a grassroots non-profit conservation organization, founded in 1989 to protect the natural environment of the South Carolina coastal plain and to enhance the quality of life of our coastal communities. The League works with individuals, businesses, and government to ensure balanced solutions.

About National Wildlife Federation
National Wildlife Federation is America’s conservation organization inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future.

About South Carolina Wildlife Federation
The South Carolina Wildlife Federation, SCWF, promotes effective habitat conservation and respect for outdoor traditions through statewide leadership, education, advocacy and partnerships. The Federation was formed in 1931, when a handful of sportsmen crisscrossed the state to recruit fellow outdoor enthusiasts. In just a few months, around 2,000 people joined as charter members.

Press Contacts

Christopher K. DeScherer

Director, South Carolina Office

Phone: 843-720-5270

Kathleen Sullivan

Senior Communications Manager (NC)

Phone: 919-945-7106
Email: ksullivan@selcnc.org