SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the U.S. government, accusing it of endangering wildlife and humans as it prepares to dredge and expand the largest bay of Puerto Rico to house huge oil tankers that will serve a new liquefied natural gas terminal.
The Arizona-based nonprofit organization said the US Army Corps of Engineers’ $60 million project would remove 2.2 million cubic yards of sediment from the seafloor to deepen and widen the ship’s shipping channels. San Juan Bay.
Dredging would take more than a year, and some of the material could be transported to the nearby Laguna del Condado Estuarine Reserve, which is popular with locals and tourists who swim, snorkel and paddle in its waters, where manatees and starfish are a common sight.
The suit also states that several “overburdened environmental justice communities” near and around the northern coast of the US territory could be at risk of contamination, explosions and oil spills if dredging is completed and the terminal begins operating. He noted that the Corps did not consult with the communities that could be affected.
“This project will destroy corals, threaten communities and deepen the island’s dangerous dependence on fossil fuels,” Catherine Kilduff, an attorney at the center, told The Associated Press.
The center and two environmental groups, CORALations and El Puente de Williamsburg Inc., filed the lawsuit against the US Army Corps of Engineers, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and others. They have 60 days to respond, and then both sides will present arguments before a judge issues a decision that can be appealed.
Spokespeople for the two government agencies did not immediately return a message seeking comment. The Corps previously stated that dredged materials in the Condado Lagoon would fill depressions and create seagrass habitat.
The suit alleges that the Corps submitted an environmental assessment rather than a more rigorous environmental impact statement and accused it of making an erroneous determination in August 2018 that the dredging would have no environmental impact.
The lawsuit noted that more than 1.5 million people live in eight cities and towns surrounding San Juan Bay: “The coastal economy is connected to the bay and its health.”
If the dredging project is completed, the tankers carrying oil and liquefied natural gas would carry around six times the capacity of the vessels currently using Puerto Rico’s busiest port.
It is located in a bay that is part of a larger ecosystem made up of rivers, lagoons, and a smaller bay that covers 3,400 acres and is home to threatened and endangered animals, including four types of sea turtles, manatees, and the black-shouldered blackbird. yellows.
Kilduff said nonprofits are requiring an environmental impact statement in part because of new information about how dredging chokes corals.
“Much of Puerto Rico’s economy depends on coastal resources such as tourism and fishing,” he said.
The suit also warned that the dredging project would “accelerate damage, wear and tear and erosion of the shoreline and structures,” including two huge historic forts that guarded San Juan Bay during colonial times.
The nonprofits said a smaller project with stronger mitigation, such as the use of silt curtains and requiring new seals on barges, could reduce environmental damage.
“The agency failed to carefully analyze the direct, indirect, and cumulative environmental impacts of its decision before acting,” the lawsuit states.
The complaint is the latest blow to plans to build a liquefied natural gas import terminal in San Juan that have come under intense scrutiny. In June, a federal appeals court ruled that New York-based New Fortress Energy Inc. failed to obtain the necessary permits before beginning construction of the terminal and must face review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. .
Environmental groups have long opposed construction of the terminal, demanding that Puerto Rico reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, which generate about 97% of the island’s electricity. Natural gas represents approximately 44% and oil another 37%. Renewables represent only 3%.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION