Court Revives Suit to Save Illinois Wetlands

     CHICAGO (CN) – An environmental group can fight to prevent the destruction of 18.4 acres of wetlands by Waste Management of Illinois, the 7th Circuit ruled.

     The American Bottom is a 175-square-mile floodplain of the Mississippi River in southwest Illinois, across the river from St. Louis.
     The area contains wetlands that provide a habitat for many species of wildlife, and it is also home to the Milam Recycling and Disposal Facility, a short distance from Horseshoe State Park. Waste Management owns an additional 220 acres between the current landfill and the park.
     As Milam 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 still pending.
     Meanwhile, Waste Management obtained a permit to remove soil from a wetlands area that it owns to cover the landfill. Removal of the soil will essentially destroy the wetlands habitat. The Army Corps of Engineers granted the request, provided that Waste Management would create a wetlands area twice as large on a nearby tract of land.
     The American Bottom Conservancy challenged the Corps’ permit. Destroying the wetlands would have disastrous effects on local wildlife that the constructed wetlands could not mitigate, the group claimed.
     U.S. District Judge Patrick Murphy dismissed the suit in Illinois, ruling that the Conservancy was not injured by the project and thus lacked standing.
     The 7th Circuit reversed Tuesday, finding that the likely decrease in wildlife that visitors to the state park would be able to observe 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,” 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.”
     “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,” he added. “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 favorable ruling, the fate of the wetlands remains uncertain because the Corps is not required to consider the negative environmental effects when granting a permit.

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