BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – Giving the green light to a hurricane-recovery project on Fire Island, a federal judge found that regulators properly accounted for how the work will affect a rare shorebird.
After Hurricane Sandy dumped 400 acres of new overwash habitat on Fire Island in October 2012, the Army Corps of Engineers obtained approval for a project to create a series of sand dunes and berms along 19 miles of Long Island.
The Audubon Society claimed in a federal complaint last month that the placement of millions of cubic yards of dredged sand along the coastline will harm the rare and depleting piping plover.
It said that the government had failed to conduct a suitable biological study of the project and its potential impact on the rare bird.
U.S. District Judge Sandra Feuerstein shot down the group’s demand for an injunction Friday, however, and in doing so dissolved a previously granted restraining order against the project.
Finding that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “thoroughly examined all relevant data and articulated a satisfactory explanation for its determination,” Feuerstein noted that the anticipated rates of death of one pair of the birds during the proposed one-year project “is not likely to result in jeopardy to the species.”
Though the Audubon Society alleged a failure by regulators to use “best scientific and commercial data available,” the court said that the group offered no such data.
Feuerstein also saw no issue with an alleged historic lack of success by the Army Corps in its habitat-restoration efforts.
The agency’s 123-page environmental assessment “cites to numerous authorities in support of its findings,” and “thoroughly identifies and evaluates all relevant factors” that the project might have on the piping plover,” according to the ruling.
As for the Audubon Society’s assertion that the government failed to consider other alternatives, Feuerstein said “the cumulative impacts of all past, present and reasonably foreseeable future actions on existing conditions” were “adequately analyzed.”
Named for its “plaintive whistle,” the piping plover has “yellow-orange legs and a black stripe from eye to eye,” the Audubon Society said in its lawsuit.
The shorebird nests in three distinct populations along the Atlantic from April to August, at which point it heads south. Uncle Sam listed it as endangered in the Great Lakes watershed in 1986, and as threatened everywhere else in its range.
The Audubon Society says the bird’s numbers have dropped by 32 percent in the New York-New Jersey area since 2007.
U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop, D-Southhampton, called the project “crucial to the protection of Mastic Beach and other low-lying communities along the south shore.”
“The final project plan is a carefully crafted document which takes into account all of the concerns that were raised throughout the planning process,” he said in a statement.
Audubon New York and the Army Corps declined to give Newsday an immediate comment. Work on the dune could start before the month is out.
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