A Huge Victory for the Nature Coast

The Army Corps has Rejected SunWest Dredge Permit!In a huge blow to this ill-advised development, environmental concerns have carried the day, and the Nature Coast of Florida will not see the creation of 60-foot wide, 4 mile long yacht mega-channel through sensitive seagrass beds. Read more about the landmark decision here.GRN thanks its members, dedicated local activists like Karen Smith, Clay Colson and many others, as well as organizational partners Jackie Lopez from the Center for Biological Diversity and the Suncoast and Tampa Bay Sierra Clubs. Much needs to be said about the continued resistance to this massive dredge project by the National Marine Fisheries Service, who made it clear that the damage to Essential Fish Habitat and other aquatic resources of national importance would be irreversibly harmed by this project. GRN helped start this fight in 2008 with the first round of permit applications. SunWest came back in late 2010 with a new strategy, co-applying with Pasco County, who would get a county park out of the deal. GRN issued alert after alert to its members and followers, as did Suncoast and Tampa Bay Sierra Clubs. Individual and organizational activists reached out through petition drives, Facebook campaigns and meeting after meeting with Corps and NMFS officials to make the case for protection of the largest intact coastal ecosystem in Florida. In short, in spite of a sign-off from DEP and the Florida cabinet and intense pressure on the Corps from political insiders, the Corps did the right thing because of the efforts of people – people who care about Florida, the health of their communities, and the Gulf. Thanks again to all. Cathy Harrelson is GRN’s Florida OrganizerArmy Corps’ written comments were as follows – from Nancy J. Sticht, May 10, 2013: “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District has denied a Department of the Army permit application, requested by the Pasco County Board of County Commissioners, to construct a county park with boat access to the Gulf of Mexico. If constructed, the proposed project, called SunWest County Park, would have impacted nearly four acres of jurisdictional wetlands and nearly 29 acres of seagrass habitat.Under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Corps regulates the discharge of dredge and fill material in waters of the United States, including many wetlands. Under the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, the Corps is responsible for the protection and maintenance of the nation’s navigable waterways. In making its decision, the Corps considers the value of the aquatic ecosystems involved, the views of federal, state and local agencies and interest groups and 21 public interest factors. In accordance with the Clean Water Act, the permit applicant must demonstrate that there are no practicable alternatives that would be less damaging to the aquatic environment than the preferred alternative. The Corps determined that the applicant failed to clearly demonstrate that the preferred alternative met this criterion. Additionally, the Corps determined that the proposed project is contrary to the public interest based on several factors, including conservation, economics, general environmental concerns, wetlands, fish and wildlife values, flood hazards, navigation, recreation, water quality and safety.In response to three public notices relative to the proposed project since 2008, approximately 9,000 individual petition e-mails and two group petition e-mails consisting of approximately 40,000 signatures requested denial of the project. The National Marine Fisheries Service, Center for Biological Diversity, Citizens for Sanity, Gulf Coast Conservancy, Save the Manatee Club, Sierra Club of Florida, Florida Wildlife Federation and Gulf Restoration Network all submitted comments expressing opposition to the proposed project. The mission of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Regulatory program is to protect the nation’s aquatic resources, while allowing reasonable development t through fair, flexible and balanced permit decisions,” said Kevin O’Kane, chief of the Tampa Regulatory Office. “We are confident that our decision is based on sound science and a comprehensive, thorough review of potential impacts, including cumulative impacts, of the proposed project on the public’s interest.”

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