Washington, DC — The Delaware Department of Transportation is violating federal wildlife laws in its road construction work on the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, according to a criminal complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). “DelDOT” is ditching, draining and building culverts on the refuge to benefit a state legislator who owns adjacent land.
State Representative V. George Carey, former chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, has pressed DelDOT to ditch and drain the county roads next to his property to protect it from storm surges and prevent saltwater intrusion on his farmland. Unfortunately, the work on Fowler Beach and Prime Hook Beach Roads diverts saltwater into the refuge’s freshwater impoundments that are vital to migratory waterfowl – the very purpose of the refuge. In addition, the work has degraded the water quality and integrity of nearly 4,000 acres of freshwater wetlands.
“Refuges are supposed to be sanctuaries for wildlife not sandboxes for state legislators,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Christine Erickson, who filed the criminal complaint. “The fact that a violator is a state highway department does not immunize it from the obligation to comply with federal law.”
The PEER complaint to the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service cites DelDOT for –
- Violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by destroying habitat of the federally threatened Piping Plover, the state endangered American Oystercatcher, as well as the Red Knot, Ruddy Turnstone, and nesting Bald Eagles; and
- Violating the Endangered Species Act by significantly degrading habitat for the Delmarva Fox Squirrel, a federally listed endangered species.
In addition, federal wetlands violations have been reported to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which has directed DelDOT to restore some of disturbed areas.
“We do not know whether Prime Hook Refuge management was complicit or simply clueless about what was going on,” added Erickson, noting that the work has been going on for months and is hard to miss. “The fact that wildlife violations were occurring on a national wildlife refuge should be reviewed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and its parent agency, the Department of Interior.”
The criminal offenses specified in the PEER complaint carry hefty penalties: Intentional violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is a felony subject to fines up to $500,000 per violation and up to two years in prison. Unintended violations can bring fines up to $15,000 per count and prison terms up to six months. Knowing violation of the Endangered Species Act is also a felony, punishable by a fine of up to $50,000 and up to one year imprisonment. All other violations are subject to a fine of up to $25,000 per offense and up to six months imprisonment.