Suit: US ship canal dredging in summer threatens sea turtles

Dec 15, 2022, 10:42 PM | Updated: Dec 16, 2022, 1:01 pm
FILE - In this July 5, 2019, file photo provided by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, a ...

FILE - In this July 5, 2019, file photo provided by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, a loggerhead sea turtle returns to the ocean after nesting on Ossabaw Island, Ga. A conservation group has again filed suit over a U.S. agency's planned timeframe for dredging a shipping channel on the Georgia coast, arguing that using machines to suck sediments from the harbor floor during summertime poses a dire threat to rare sea turtles. (Georgia Department of Natural Resources via AP, File)

(Georgia Department of Natural Resources via AP, File)

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A conservation group has filed suit over a U.S. agency’s planned timeframe for dredging a Georgia coast shipping channel, arguing that using powerful pumps to suck up harbor sediments in summertime would endanger rare sea turtles.

For two years, environmentalists have battled an effort by the Army Corps of Engineers to end a policy that for three decades limited to winter months the dredging of accumulated sand and mud from harbors in Georgia and the Carolinas.

The seasonal limits have been in place since 1991. They are intended to protect sea turtles from being killed and maimed by the vacuum-like suction pumps of hopper dredges during the warmer months when female turtles lay their eggs on Southern beaches. Conservationists credit that policy with helping threatened and endangered turtle species begin a fragile rebound.

Giant loggerhead sea turtles, protected as a federally threatened species, nest during the spring and summer months on beaches from North Carolina to Florida. Smaller numbers of endangered green and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles lay eggs in the region as well.

A federal judge last year temporarily blocked the Army Corps from conducting year-round dredging in Georgia. In September, a different judge halted a similar plan in North Carolina. Both judges ruled that the agency failed to adequately assess potential dangers to legally protected sea turtle species.

Now the issue is back in court. One Hundred Miles, a coastal Georgia conservation group, filed suit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Savannah. The complaint says the Army Corps is now preparing to dredge in the summer of 2023 in the shipping channel leading to the Georgia port city of Brunswick.

The move comes after the Army Corps published an environmental assessment in May that concluded ending seasonal dredging limits in the Brunswick harbor would have no significant impact on sea turtles.

“We are fighting the same battles again, but the message remains the same: Hopper dredging and sea turtle nesting season just don’t mix,” said Catherine Ridley of the conservation group One Hundred Miles. “If you come in right when we have reproducing females in those very waters, they are sitting ducks.”

The lawsuit asks a judge to again stop the Army Corps from ending seasonal dredging limits without first performing a more rigorous environmental impact study.

Kimberly Wintrich, an Army Corps spokeswoman in Atlanta, said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation. She also declined to confirm whether the Army Corps plans summer dredging in Brunswick.

The lawsuit cites a contract the Army Corps awarded in September for a private company to dredge harbors over the next year in Wilmington, North Carolina; Charleston, South Carolina; and Savannah and Brunswick in Georgia. A bid solicitation posted in July specified that dredging at each location would take place during the traditional seasonal window between December and March.

However, the document also listed an “optional bid item” for additional dredging in Brunswick to be conducted between May and August 2023. That falls during the nesting season when sea turtles are abundant in Georgia waters — a period previously off-limits to dredging.

That provision triggered the conservation group’s court challenge.

The Army Corps is in charge of keeping shipping channels clear of accumulated sediments to ensure safe passage of large vessels. Seaports in Georgia and neighboring states reported record growth in 2022 amid soaring consumer demand and frequent traffic jams with cargo ships waiting at sea.

The agency has sought to scrap seasonal limits on dredging in the Southern Atlantic since the National Marine Fisheries Service concluded in 2020 that sea turtles protected by the Endangered Species Act can likely endure roughly 150 deaths anticipated annually from year-round dredging.

Army Corps officials have said that seasonal restrictions make it difficult to compete for a limited number of contractors. They have also argued that seasonal windows timed to protect sea turtles ignore other species such as critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, which frequent the same waters during winter.

The latest Georgia case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge R. Stan Baker, who in May 2021 halted the Army Corps’ summer dredging plans for Brunswick.

In addition to ruling that the Army Corps needed to perform an environmental assessment, which the agency has since done, the judge cited the longevity of the South’s seasonal limits as evidence that year-round dredging could imperil a large number of sea turtles.

Baker said from the bench in May 2021: “Frankly it’s a stretch to believe the Corps would have abstained from spring and summer dredging in the area for decades if it did not believe there was a significant danger to loggerhead sea turtles during that time.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Turkey’s opposition vows more democracy if it wins election

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A coalition of six Turkish opposition parties striving to end two decades of rule by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday reaffirmed a commitment for a return to parliamentary democracy should their alliance win elections that are likely to be held on May 14. In a ceremony in Ankara, the six […]
1 day ago
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, right, shakes hands with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenb...
Associated Press

NATO chief urges Seoul to send military support to Ukraine

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday called for South Korea to provide direct military support to Ukraine, saying Kyiv is in urgent need of weapons to fight off the prolonged Russian invasion. South Korea, a growing arms exporter with the large U.S.-backed military, has provided humanitarian aid and other support […]
1 day ago
FILE-- In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 photo Hans-Georg Maassen, then head of the German Federal ...
Associated Press

German opposition party seeks to oust ex-intel agency chief

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s main opposition party is trying to get a rid of a member and former head of the country’s domestic intelligence agency after he complained about what he said was a move toward “eliminatory racism against whites.” The leadership of the center-right Christian Democratic Union unanimously approved a resolution on Monday calling […]
1 day ago
The painting "A Boating Party" by French painter Gustave Caillebotte is displayed at the Orsay Muse...
Associated Press

France buys new masterpiece for Orsay museum with LVMH gift

PARIS (AP) — France has acquired a stunning Impressionist masterpiece for its national collection of art treasures, with a donation from luxury goods giant LVMH paying the 43 million euros (nearly $47 million) for “A Boating Party” by 19th-century French artist Gustave Caillebotte. The oil on canvas shows an oarsman in a top hat rowing […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Austrian police find family illegally living in wine cellar

BERLIN (AP) — Austrian police said Monday they arrested a 54-year-old man after he attacked two social workers with pepper spray when they found him living illegally in a private wine cellar in northeastern Austria with a woman and six young children. Police in the Austrian province of Lower Austria were still trying to determine […]
1 day ago
FILE - Signs stand outside Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Va., on Jan. 25, 2023. The s...
Associated Press

School where 6-year-old shot his teacher set to reopen

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — Stepped-up security and a new school administrator will be present as students return to the Virginia elementary school where a 6-year-old boy shot his teacher weeks ago. Richneck Elementary School in Newport News was set to reopen Monday, more than three weeks after the Jan. 6 shooting. Police have said […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Suit: US ship canal dredging in summer threatens sea turtles