Posted on December 19, 2022
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has withdrawn approval to dredge the Matagorda Bay shipping channel through an EPA Superfund site. Additionally, a commitment was made to undergo extensive additional environmental review, including a full Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement . A coalition of Gulf and environmental groups, including Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN), had filed a lawsuit after new information came to light about the anticipated use of the shipping channel and the risks of mercury contamination on sea turtles and other marine life, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and significant impacts on the lives and livelihoods of people working in the fishing industry.
This is the latest development in a series of events, after it was announced the dredging project was to be delayed earlier this year. Had the project been allowed to continue, it would have vastly expanded exports from an oil export terminal on the Texas Gulf Coast, and allowed larger oil tankers to reach the company’s proposed oil export terminal.
Plaintiffs Turtle Island Restoration Network, San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper, Earthworks, Environmental Integrity Project, and Texas Campaign for the Environment are represented by lawyers Erin Gaines and Jan Hasselman of Earthjustice.
“The proposed dredge project for the Matagorda Bay system would have substantial negative environmental effects on the estuarine system including the resuspension of mercury, intensification of low dissolved oxygen levels, placement of dredge spoils potentially contaminated with mercury and clay, increased turbidity and salinity, and harm to sea grasses, oyster beds, fish, and sea turtles,” said Joanie Steinhaus, Gulf Program Director of TIRN.
“The law requires agencies to fully understand and disclose the impacts of their actions. The federal proposal to dredge up a toxic waste site so that we can export more crude oil failed that test,” said Erin Gaines, senior attorney at Earthjustice. “We’re glad that the Corps has chosen to follow the law without further litigation, and we look forward to ensuring the full assessment properly considers the environmental, human health and local economic impacts.”
“Our fishing community will not stand by and let this toxic dredging project upend decades of hard work to bury industrial waste dumped in the bay,” said Diane Wilson, fourth-generation shrimper and executive director of San Antonio Estuarine Bay Waterkeeper. “We’re celebrating today but we know the fight isn’t over to protect our health and livelihoods from dirty fossil fuel companies trying to make a profit.”
The Corps will now restart and redo its environmental analysis of the dredging project, and work will not continue until a complete analysis is performed. The analysis would look at the project’s impact on public health, the surrounding ecosystem, and the damage the project would do to the local fishing economy. During this time period, public and expert input will be allowed to be heard.
“The EIS did not properly evaluate these potential impacts and I am thrilled to learn the Corps has decided to do a comprehensive environmental review of the Matagorda Bay Project,” said Steinhaus
Turtle Island Restoration Network is a global ocean conservation nonprofit with offices in California and Texas, whose mission is to inspire and mobilize people around the world to protect marine biodiversity and the oceans that sustain all life on Earth.