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Greens Lose Bid to Halt |Sea Walls on Ga. Coast

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CN) - Environmental groups lack standing to halt construction of 17,500 bulkheads and sea walls on 275 acres of Georgia coastline, a federal judge ruled.

The groups sought to have the permits revoked for the project in the Ogeechee River and Savannah River basins, which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2012.

"Coastal Georgia is ... home to numerous endangered and threatened species that may be affected by NWP 13 projects - including wood stork, piping plover, shortnose sturgeon, and West Indian Manatee," said the complaint filed in October 2014 by the National Wildlife Federation, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, and Savannah Riverkeeper.

"Five species of threatened and endangered sea turtles occur in Georgia's coastal waters, including loggerhead sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, green sea turtles, Kemp's ridley sea turtles, and Hawksbill sea turtles," the groups added.

But on march 14, U.S. District Judge John Bates held that the Corps of Engineers acted appropriately in approving the permits for the work.

"General permits may be promulgated by the Corps for a category of action when that activity will cause only minimal adverse environmental effects on both an individual and cumulative level," Bates wrote in the 14-page opinion.

Further, the court ruled, the groups' lawsuit would not right any wrongs caused by the bulkheads. "Even if [the permit] were vacated and/or the court were to remand to the Corps to conduct a further environmental analysis, the harm to plaintiffs' concrete interest in the natural beauty of the Georgia coast ... could not be redressed," Bates wrote.

The environmentalists claimed the proposed bulkhead and sea walls would cause "significant environmental damage" and violate several federal environmental and administrative regulations.

The Clean Water Act, for example, generally forbids the construction of bulkheads because they typically involve dredging and filling of materials into U.S. waters.

The environmental groups said the bulkheads will harm several endangered or threatened species, particularly those in the salt marsh-rich Georgia coastline. Among the species are the wood stork, West Indian manatee, and green sea turtles.

"Bank stabilization projects built along streams, rivers, lakes, and coastal waters have significant cumulative effects," the groups' complaint stated. "Scientific evidence shows that the 'hardening' of natural shorelines causes, among other things, further erosion, the degradation of stream bottoms, and the loss of important shoreline habitat."

In issuing nationwide permit 13, which was granted alongside 50 other nationwide general permits, the Corps never adequately evaluated the environmental impact and looked only at the impact on human environment, the groups claimed.

The environmental groups also cited concerns of the Environmental Protection Agency and other regulators that the new sea walls would cause erosion

But the District Court failed to find any standing for the groups, ruling that none of their members were injured due to the permit.

The court admitted one of the members, who kayaked in the Savannah River basin, might have been harmed by the "unsightly appearance" of the bulkheads; however, that woman admitted she often avoids areas where bulkheads exist.

"Plaintiffs have not stated an imminent concrete injury threatened by future NWP 13 projects," Bates wrote.

"Because the conservation groups cannot show that their only injury - caused by bulkheads that existed when their complaint was filed-will be redressed by the injunctive and declaratory relief sought, their substantial injury will not support standing," he wrote.

Sea walls are controversial among environmental groups due to the potential for disruption of natural habitats.

On Tuesday, in an unrelated case, the New Jersey Sierra Club issued a statement Gov. Chris Christie over a new steel sea wall built in 2014 to protect the Jersey Shore against future hurricanes and upper storms.

Homeowners along the shore sued the state after claiming a 10- to 12-foot drop-off on the beach.

"Sea walls do not work and only cause more flooding and erosion," club president Jeff Tittel said in a statement. "Sea walls provide a false sense of security. They raise the level of the storm water creating more flooding as the water goes around the wall."

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