Groups file petition to block construction of FPL natural gas pipeline

Turtles bask along the Suwannee River, where a proposed pipeline could run underground.
Turtles bask along the Suwannee River, where a proposed pipeline could run underground.

Gulf Restoration Network, Flint Riverkeeper, and the Sierra Club filed a petition Wednesday seeking to block construction of a $3.2 billion pipeline slated to bring natural gas to Florida Power & Light’s South Florida plants next year.

The action was filed in federal court in Atlanta against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its issuance of five Clean Water Act permits that would allow construction of the 515-mile Florida Southeast Market Pipelines Project, including the Sabal Trail pipeline.

The petition seeks an expedited review of the Corps’ decision.

Pipeline officials had no immediate comment.

This project would transport fracked gas across 699 waterbodies, lakes, rivers, and streams and harm 1,958 wetland systems in  Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.

In addition, the project would include five compressor stations contributing significant amounts of air pollution. Despite widespread local opposition to the project, state and federal agencies are continuing to proceed.

Last week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave its final approval  for construction to begin on to the southernmost portion of the pipeline, consisting of 126 miles from Central Florida to Martin County. FERC has not yet given the northern portion, known as Sabal Trail, the final go-ahead.

If built, the fracked gas pipeline would extend throughout Florida and southern Georgia over an area that provides drinking water to approximately 10 million people. Pipeline construction alone poses a threat to local water resources as the process threatens to release hazardous materials and drilling mud into the aquifer, polluting the drinking water, and resulting in rapid transmission of drilling mud over great distances, the groups said.

The lawsuit alleges the Corps failed to provide proper notice and public participation. The lawsuit further charges that the planned pipeline fails to avoid, minimize or mitigate the adverse environmental impacts.

“Communities in Florida and Georgia have clearly stated that they do not want this dangerous fracked-gas pipeline polluting their water or their neighborhoods. We have collected 25,000 signatures in opposition to the pipeline, but the Army Corps is just not listening,” said Johanna DeGraffenreid with Gulf Restoration Network. “The public has continually been left out of the decision making process for this project and that is unacceptable. Our water and communities are too important to risk for an unnecessary pipeline.”

Steve Caley, Legal Director at GreenLaw, said “the Floridan Aquifer, one of the largest freshwater aquifers in the world which supplies drinking water to millions of people in the southeastern United States, has a close connection to the water bodies and wetlands that will be negatively impacted or destroyed by the Southeast Market Pipelines Project.  Given the threats this Project poses to this critical water supply, the Corps’ failure to follow clearly established law by transparently evaluating and disclosing for public review and comment how those negative effects will be mitigated is particularly egregious.”

Eric Huber, managing attorney for the Sierra Club, said, “Essentially what happened is the Corps stated FERC addressed mitigation while FERC stated the Corps would do it. As a result, neither agency analyzed the issue and the public had no chance to review and comment on it. To make matters worse, the Corps was aware of several less damaging routes but did not choose them, causing unnecessary destruction to wetlands through the heart of southern Georgia and Florida.”

 

Enviros sue Army Corps over Port Everglades dredging plan, coral reefs

Coral reefs such as this one contain diverse ecosystems and protect coastlines from wave action and tropical storms.
Coral reefs such as this one contain diverse ecosystems and protect coastlines from wave action and tropical storms.

The Florida Wildlife Federation and two other  environmental organizations and America’s largest trade organization for recreational divers filed suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Marine Fisheries Service in federal court Wednesday to seek protections for  coralreefs off Fort Lauderdale.

The corals in and around Port Everglades are threatened by a the Corps proposed dredging and port expansion project to make way for larger, Panama-canal sized vessels, the groups said.

In the complaint filed today, Miami Waterkeeper, Center for Biological Diversity, Florida Wildlife Federation, and the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association  allege that the Corps inadequately considered the risks to corals in approving the Port Everglades dredging project, and violated the National Environmental Policy Act  process and the Endangered Species Act .

The complaint points out that the environmental analyses that the Corps and the National Marine Fisheries Service relied on to approve the project simply does not represent “best available science,” the legal standard for agency decision-making, because it fails to account for new information realized during dredging at PortMiami, among other reasons.

Port Everglades is about 30 miles north of the Port of Miami, where the Corps recently deepened and widened the Miami Harbor Channel, a project that proved disastrous for the coral reef in the area. For the PortMiami project, the Corps had assumed there would be minimal impacts to coral, but instead fine-grained sediment from the project injured and smothered tens of thousands of coral colonies and over 250 acres of the reefs. The damage spread out over half a mile from the dredging.

Despite these devastating results, the Corps has used the same flawed methodologies to evaluate the Port Everglades proposal, refusing to change any of its procedures to better protect corals, the groups said.

“Floridians know the beauty and the value of these majestic reefs — the only nearshore barrier reef in the continental US. The PortMiami project proved that the Corps of Engineers’ environmental review process is flawed, and that the dredging could irreparably harm this national treasure.” said Brettny Hardy, an attorney at Earthjustice who represents plaintiffs in the case. “Under the law, a proper analysis must be done before further taxpayer dollars are spent on this potentially devastating project.”

“After the devastating impacts caused by the dredging at PortMiami to our reefs, we will do everything in our power to ensure that history does not repeat itself at Port Everglades.” said Rachel Silverstein, executive director and waterkeeper of Miami Waterkeeper. “The Corps must follow the law.”

While the Corps has already acknowledged that its current environmental analysis is not appropriate or sufficient, it does not plan to begin a new formal evaluation of the dredging plans and environmental considerations until January 2017, at the earliest. In the meantime, it is moving forward with engineering and design of the Port Everglades project and seeking Congressional authorization for project funding, still relying on faulty, outdated environmental documents.

“It is incredibly reckless that the Corps is continuing to move forward without redoing its evaluation based on the dramatic sedimentation impacts that took place at PortMiami,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Protecting the coral reef will require more expansive – and likely more expensive – monitoring, mitigation, and changes to dredging methodologies. Because the Corps’ analysis is inadequate, the groups fear that the current requested funding levels will fall short of what’s needed to prevent harm to the reef.

“That’s exactly why these documents are intended to be done properly before the project is authorized. The Corps is going about this backwards and the result will be an incomplete execution of the plan to protect the reefs,” said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation.

The reefs provide huge environmental and economic benefits to South Florida.

“The living coral reefs in South Florida are enormously important, not only as an irreplaceable environment, but as a contributor to the economy of the state and Florida’s diving industry,” said Tom Ingram, President and CEO of the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association.

“Each year snorkeling and scuba diving in Florida account for almost 9 million visitor-days, create almost 30,000 full-time equivalent tourism-related jobs, and contribute about $1 billion directly to the Florida economy. DEMA is determined to help protect the natural reef from destruction so that many generations to come can continue to enjoy the opportunity to see, first-hand, this unique and precious natural resource,” Ingram said.