Environmental group wins in court to stop year round dredging, says it will protect turtles

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The environmental group One Hundred Miles scored a victory Thursday to stop what it says is an illegal dredging schedule by the Army Corps of Engineers.

A federal judge granted the group a preliminary injunction which will halt the plan.

The Corps announced earlier this year it was going to an ‘all year’ maintenance dredging plan instead of just doing it during the ‘winter months’ from December 15 through March 31.

That plan was immediately met with opposition with the group charging that dredging during the summer months could harm the already endangered loggerhead turtle.

“What I really appreciated was the judge really understood what was at stake in terms of the harm to our turtles,” says Catherine Ridley of One Hundred Miles. “I would say it was decisive victory for our side and for our claim.”

The group’s attorneys argued in court that the endangered turtles faced a threat because there are more turtles in the water in warmer, summer months. A witness testified that hopper dredges go deep into the water and turtles can be killed by getting caught in the equipment. The Corps had scheduled a 20-day dredge in Brunswick Harbor beginning later this month which added urgency to One Hundred Miles’ concerns.

“I think what we were facing was a very real scenario that our teams of volunteers and sea turtle technicans would go out on the beach and celebrate a new turtle nest and then the very next day have that same nesting mother be killed in a dredge,” said Ridley.

“State and federal agencies have relied on seasonal dredging windows for decades for the
simple fact that these windows have proven to be effective in reducing risks to sea turtles and
other coastal wildlife,” said Megan Huynh, Senior Attorney for the Southern Environmental Law
Center which represented One Hundred Miles in court.

The group’s attorneys also argued the Corps had not fully studied the impacts of dredging the entire year and had not done any kind of environmental impact statement as required by law.

The judge ruled One Hundred Miles had proven there could be irreparable harm to turtles and that the shorter, winter season had been adopted years ago to help revive the turtle population. He also said the Corps should have done some kind of environmental impact statement. He granted the preliminary injunction, saying that dredging in Brunswick could ‘not’ take place from April 1 through December 14.

“The winter season is still available so that leaves us where we’ve been for the last 30 years which we think is best for the turtles,” said Ridley. “We are certainly committed to making sure that there’s no spring and summer dredging anywhere along our coast.”

It’s expected that the Corps may want to keep fighting for the change, but for now, Ridley says they have scored a win.

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