Washington, DC — The latest plan by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) would allow increased destruction of wetlands in the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina. Under this new plan, developers would be able to destroy five acres of wetland per project without public input, thus threatening flood storage capacity, drinking water quality and aquatic ecosystems, according to formal comments released today by the Gulf Restoration Network and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The groups filed their comments at the end of the public comment period for a Corps proposal titled Regional General Permit SAM-20 (Residential, Commercial, and Institutional Developments within the Mobile District - Hancock, Jackson, Pearl River, Stone, and George Counties, Mississippi). Under this plan, builders would be free to –
- Fill up to five acres of wetlands, up from the current one-half acre limit, without environmental review by the Corps;
- Fill up to 300 feet of perennial streams. The plan also eliminates any protection from ephemeral streams, and
- Build structures in the 100-year floodplain.
“By offering this plan, the Corps is giving a green light to development in the very places that are critical for protecting communities from flooding,” said Jeff Grimes of the Gulf Restoration Network, a coalition of local, regional, and national groups dedicated to protecting and restoring the resources of the Gulf of Mexico. “Gulf Coast residents are astounded that the Corps would offer this plan in the wake of all the recent flooding and loss.”
The thrust of the Corps’ plan is precisely contrary to the recommendations of an array of expert panels, ranging from the Working Group for Post-Hurricane Planning for the Louisiana Coast to the American Geophysical Union. Moreover, the Corps’ plan is contrary to its own policies, as well as a presidential order forbidding new development in floodplains.
“This is a wrong-headed solution offered by the very organization, the Corps, that did the most to help create the problem,” stated PEER’s Kyla Bennett, a biologist and lawyer formerly with the wetland program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “The last thing the Mississippi Coast needs is sprawling, flood-vulnerable development.”
In an effort to promote re-construction, the Corps would let developers self-certify their compliance, as well as make decisions as to whether a wetland is “low quality,” meriting even less protection. Additionally, the limited safeguards that the Corps proposes in the plan are unenforceable.
The Corps is required to respond to all public comments and integrate suggested improvements into its final action. If the Corps decides to ignore the problems raised, it risks having its plan tied up in litigation.