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JACKSONVILLE DISTRICT ADDRESSES CRITICS OF PORT MIAMI AND PORT EVERGLADES DEEPENING PROJECTS

In response to local criticism of the Port Miami deepening project, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District released a statement at the end of May, addressing what it saw as inaccuracies in local reporting and outlining the environmental protection plan and and coral relocation program for the Port Miami project.

The Corps said it worked with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) at every stage of the project, which was carried out according to the terms of the biological opinion issued by NMFS on September 8, 2011.

The Corps said critics have overstated the extent and degree of the effects of the project, which are as follows: the worst case affected area is 0.4 square miles, of the total 600 square miles and 150-mile long, four-mile wide, Florida Reef Tract. “The effects of the dredge in the worst case in no way threaten the overall viability of the reef tract,” the Corps said in its statement. “We conducted the dredge in compliance with all applicable permits, and have conducted extensive mitigation to date, including constructing an artificial reef, establishing acres of seagrass, and moving corals to coral nurseries where they have flourished.”

The scientific dive team that provided environmental monitoring of the project conducted more than 9,600 dives. The Corps, along with NMFS, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Port of Miami will conduct a definitive survey of the affected areas this summer. This survey, the Corps said, will determine the permanent, as opposed to transient, effects of deepening project, the success of mitigation efforts to date, and the need, if any, for additional mitigation.

The Jacksonville District also had to address claims from local media that the district did not update documents relating to the Port of Everglades deepening project to reflect information gained from the Port Miami deepening project. The Corps said these statements are inaccurate, and released another statement in early June to counter these inaccuracies.

As example, the Port Everglades Final Feasibility Report, dated March 2015, and the Environmental Impact Statement, revised in May 2015, include a number of provisions that reflect information gained from the Port Miami deepening project, including the implementation of upfront mitigation for indirect impacts to non-EPA listed corals and reef structure, consistent with state law pursuant to the Coastal Zone Management Act, and refined measures to avoid and minimize impacts to threatened and endangered coral species and their critical habitats pursuant to the Endangered Species Act.

The Port Everglades report and the biological opinion also include a commitment to have the Corps, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, NMFS, EPA, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission jointly develop the project environmental monitoring plan. The Corps said this action was an important shift toward a greater level of interagency cooperation among the Corps and other state and federal agencies.

The Corps has also again begun consultation with NMFS to amend the existing biological opinion for the Port Everglades project to reflect new coral species that are now listed as protected. The Corps also implemented a sediment transport model, designed to identify areas that the sediment from the project might affect. “The modeling is underway, and may show that the project could affect areas not previously consulted on in earlier assessments. The incorporation of sediment transport modeling into project planning is a significant difference from the Miami Harbor project,” the Corps said..

The Corps is developing the additional information to submit the new information to NMFS, and the Corps has been aware of the need for a supplemental biological opinion since September 10, 2014, when NMFS published a final ruling listing the proposed coral species.

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