Restoration? Who Are You Kidding?

     CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) – The Army Corps of Engineers unlawfully approved a plan to convert a freshwater wetland into a salt marsh by calling it “restoration,” the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League claims in court.
     The Conservation League sued the Corps of Engineers in Federal Court, for its authorizations of ongoing work in the navigational channel of the Savannah River.
     The approvals allow the South Coast Mitigation Group, which wants to establish a mitigation bank in Jasper County, S.C., to covert the freshwater wetlands into salt marsh by removing water-control structures from the project site.
     But this would undermine past efforts by the Corps of Engineers to protect the historically freshwater wetland from saltwater intrusion, the conservationists say.
     “South Coast would then be able to sell credits from the mitigation bank to offset unavoidable impacts to salt marshes from Corps-permitted activities in other areas of coastal South Carolina,” the complaint states.
     “In short, the Corps has unlawfully sanctioned South Coast’s plan to dismantle features protecting increasingly rare freshwater habitat from unnatural saltwater intrusion, and sell mitigation credits on the premise that the project ‘restores’ salt marsh.”
     Calling this restoration “is wholly unsupported by the facts,” the Conservation League claims: the site has been a freshwater wetland for at least 200 years.
     “The Corps’ failure to consider the negative impacts of this project in spite of serious objections by expert agencies and the concerned public further resulted in violations of the agency’s responsibilities under the National Environmental Policy Act,” the complaint states.
     The NEPA requires the Corps of Engineers to evaluate how its authorization of a project will affect the human environment, including the historic, recreational and cultural values provided by the impounded freshwater wetland at the project site.
     The Conservation League seeks declaratory judgment that the Corps of Engineers’ approval of South Coast’s mitigation plans was unlawful, arbitrary and capricious, that it violated the National Environmental Policy Act, and must reconsider its decision to comply it and the Administrative Procedure Act.
     The Conservation League is represented by Christopher DeScherer of the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charleston.

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