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Activists Can Sue Over Wetland Destruction

(CN) - A conservation group has standing to challenge the destruction of more than 400 acres of wetlands in the mid-Atlantic region, the Virginia Court of Appeals ruled.

The court found that preparatory work authorized by a reservoir permit extension gives the Chesapeake Bay Foundation standing to challenge what the foundation calls the largest legally sanctioned destruction of wetlands in the area.

The state of Virginia, along with its water control board and environmental department, issued the state permit to the city of Newport News in 1997. Set to expire in 10 years, the permit allowed construction and operation of the King William Reservoir upon completion of certain studies. After Newport News secured a federal permit in 2005 (also challenged by the environmental foundation), the city sought to extend the state permit when it realized that the necessary reservoir studies were not likely to be completed before the state permit expired.

Virginia extended the permit by five years. When the Chesapeake Bay Foundation challenged the modification, Richmond Circuit Court dismissed its case for lack of standing.

The Virginia appellate court determined that because members of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation held an aesthetic and recreational interest in the local environment, and since the permit extension authorized destruction of natural resources through archeological excavation and other site preparation, the foundation did have standing to challenge the permit extension.

In his opinion, Judge Larry G. Elden quoted the Supreme Court's seminal Sierra Club v. Morton decision, which stated that "aesthetic and environmental well-being, like economic well-being, are important ingredients of the quality of life in our society."

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