TRENTON, N.J. (CN) – New Jersey sued the United States to try to stop tests involving offshore “powerful sonic blasts every five seconds for thirty days” during prime fishing season.
The state’s Department of Environmental Protection wants federal findings of no significant impact set aside as arbitrary and capricious, proper environmental studies, a public comment period and mitigation.
For the second year in a row, Rutgers University is principal investigator in the Marine Seismic Survey Research Project. Rutgers, however, is not a defendant in the June 5 federal lawsuit.
Named as defendants are the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration and its Office for Coastal Management, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, which is a component of Columbia University’ Earth Institute.
The defendants want to fire high-energy seismic blasts from a research vessel every 5.4 seconds into the ocean floor for about a month.
New Jersey says the blasts will be felt “far outside of the study area” and will reduce commercial and recreational catch and harass marine mammals.
New Jersey has six major ports and its fishing industry sold $146 million worth of fish at the dock in 2006, according to state figures. The state estimates that each dollar brought in portside brings in another $6 in associated employment, making fishing a $1 billion industry, even without factoring its lure for vacationers.
New Jersey says the defendants blew off its complaints that the project will violate the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.
New Jersey claims the defendants did not allow it to review the project for its “reasonably foreseeable coastal effects.” Had the state been allowed input, Uncle Sam could have proceeded only if it proved the test did not violate the state’s coastal management programs
The test was scrapped in 2014 when the vessel, the R/V Marcus Langseth, had mechanical problems. The ship recently left New York City and is near the survey area off the New Jersey coast.
The National Science Foundation rejected New Jersey’s request to postpone the tests for a few months, to reduce the impact on the state fishing industry. The NSF said such a delay would affect its scientists’ teaching obligations. The team includes some students.
New Jersey rejects the NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management claim that the study is not actually federally assisted, and therefore not subject to strict compliance procedures. The state says the National Science Foundation told it that the test required federal licenses and permits.
Columbia University’s website on the project, checked Tuesday morning, states : “The R/V Langseth is distinct among ships in the academic fleet in that it is a designated National Facility.”
New Jersey’s Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The R/V Marcus Langseth was involved in a similar lawsuit in 2009. An environmental group sued to forestall a similar seismic study in Canadian waters, on behalf of Pacific Gas & Electric. The lawsuit delayed that study only a few days.
The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory “seeks fundamental knowledge about the origin, evolution and future of the natural world” and its scientists “study the planet from its deepest interior to the outer reaches of its atmosphere, on every continent and on every ocean,” according to its website.
The observatory boasts the world’s largest collection of deep-sea and ocean-sediment cores from every ocean and sea. It has portable seismometers to deploy quickly to any place on the globe to study the effects of earthquakes.
New Jersey is represented by its Assistant Attorney General David Apy and Acting Attorney General John Hoffman.
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