7th Circuit Revives Suit Over Illinois Wetlands

     CHICAGO (CN) – The 7th Circuit said an environmental group can fight the Army Corps of Engineers from allowing Waste Management of Illinois from destroying 18.4 acres of wetlands known as the American Bottom.

     The American Bottom, a 175-square-mile floodplain of the Mississippi River in southwest Illinois, across the river from St. Louis, has wetlands that provide habitat for many species of wildlife. It also is home to the Milam Recycling and Disposal Facility, just a short distance from Horseshoe State Park. Waste Management owns another 220 acres between the landfill and the park.
     As the Milam dump nears capacity, Waste Management sought a permit from the EPA to build a second landfill within half a mile of the state park. The permit is pending.
     But Waste Management has obtained a permit to remove soil from wetlands it owns, to cover the landfill.
     Removal of the soil will destroy the wetlands. The Army Corps of Engineers granted the request, provided that Waste Management create a wetlands twice as large on a nearby tract.
     The American Bottom Conservancy sued the Corps of Engineers for issuing the permit. Destroying the wetlands would have disastrous effects on local wildlife that the artificially created wetlands could not mitigate, the group says.
U.S. District Judge Patrick Murphy dismissed the complaint in Illinois, finding that the Conservancy had not been injured by the project and lacked standing.
     The 7th Circuit reversed last week, finding that the likely decrease in wildlife that visitors to the state park would be able to see was an injury great enough to confer standing.
     “The district judge thought that to establish standing the affiants had to attest that they would be so upset by the diminution in their bird- and wildlife-watching activities that they would no longer visit the state park,” U.S. District Judge Richard Posner wrote. “That is wrong; it is enough to confer standing that their pleasure is diminished even if not to the point that they abandon the site.”
     Judge Posner added: “If the American Bottom Conservancy can prevent the wetlands’ destruction by knocking out the Corps of Engineers permit, there will be no North Milam landfill. And so a judgment in the plaintiffs favor in the present lawsuit would eliminate probable injury from the landfill. No more is necessary to establish standing.”
     Despite the ruling, the fate of the wetlands remains uncertain because the Corps of Engineers is not required to consider the negative environmental effects when granting a permit.

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