Groups say Florida port expansion plan is flawed

Letter to Corps of Engineers details serious problems

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Citizen groups and environmental activists say a plan to expand Port Everglades, in Fort Lauderdale, will harm unique coral reef ecosystems. Photo courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Community and environmental activists in Florida say a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan for expanding Port Everglades is flawed, especially considering the damage caused to reefs near Miami during the expansion of that port.

More than a dozen South Florida businesses and environmental organizations joined Miami Waterkeeper and the Center for Biological Diversity last week to demand that the Corps reevaluate its Port Everglades expansion plan.

The group outlined their concerns in a 15 page letter to the Corps. The letter said the agency failed to protect coral reef resources. As a result, hundreds of acres of corals were smothered. Those lessons need to be applied to Port Everglades, the groups said.

The marine waters and reefs of Port Everglades — Fort Lauderdale, Dania Beach and Hollywood — contain invaluable, highly sensitive habitats and species that live in the only coral reef in the continental United States. They support fisheries, water sports and tourism industries, and are the first line of defense against hurricane waves and surge.

“The Corps claims it’s a ‘learning agency,’ but all plans so far show that the Corps is not intending to improve its practices in Port Everglades after destroying over 200 acres of reef in Miami, and with this letter we show our intent to push for better protection for Fort Lauderdale’s reefs,” said Rachel Silverstein, executive director of Miami Waterkeeper.

“It’s outrageous that the Army Corps would stubbornly refuse to learn from its recent mistakes. Florida’s coral reefs are a national treasure that deserve to be protected,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Rather than diving headlong into the Port Everglades project, the Army Corps needs to step back, learn the lessons of the fiasco at the Port of Miami, and do right by our coral reefs.”

The letter cites reports from NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, the EPA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, each documenting severe coral mortality and damage to the reef habitat that far exceed what had been permitted for during the Miami dredge project.

Since the Port Everglades dredging project is based on the same now-disproven assumptions as the Miami project, the groups are asking the Army Corps to reinitiate Endangered Species Act consultation with the expert agency, the Fisheries Service, about the effects of the Port Everglades expansion on protected corals in the area, and apply the lessons learned from the Miami dredging project.

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