(CN) - An erosion-abatement plan that calls for the construction of up to 17,500 sea walls and bulkheads violates environmental law, conservation groups claim in Federal Court.
The National Wildlife Federation, Ogeechee Riverkeeper and Savannah Riverkeeper filed suit Friday in Washington against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and two officials.
It says Nationwide Permit 13 (NWP 13), authorizing "a bank stabilization structure up to 500 feet in length," was issued without environmental review or public notice and comment.
"Although these structures are intended to prevent land erosion, they cause significant environmental damage," the 31-page complaint states.
The environmental groups fear the blanket permit will breed violations of the Clean Water Act, Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act, National Environmental Policy Act and Administrative Procedure Act.
"Bank stabilization projects built along streams, rivers, lakes, and coastal waters have significant cumulative effects," the complaint states. "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."
When it issued the permit in 2012, the U.S. Army Corps predicted that it would green light 17,500 projects by 2017, covering 275 acres of waters nationwide, according to the complaint.
National and local regulators allegedly expressed reservations about this general permit.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had "strong concerns" that the new sea walls would cause erosion because it is "well-documented that the use of hard structures can affect wave energy and direction, affect sediment and other materials transport, and cause accelerated erosion and/or scouring," according to the complaint.
A separate section of the lawsuit focuses on how the structures will affect the salt marsh-rich George coastline.
"Coastal Georgia is also 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," the complaint states.
"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.
They say the permit has opened at least 25 projects in 11 Georgian counties.
In addition to targeting NWP 13, the conservation groups specifically seek to revoke the permit for the so-called "Bull River Bulkhead," a 177-foot vertical cement wall in Chatham Country.
They want a federal judge to find NWP 13 and the approval of the Bull River Bulkhead as "arbitrary, capricious, [and] an abuse of discretion."
Jan Goldman Carter with the National Wildlife Foundation and Nathaniel Hunt with the Southern Environmental Law Center represent the groups.
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