The US Army Corps of Engineers was sued Tuesday by several environmental groups over its plan to expand a dredging project into US territory in Puerto Rico.
“We reject this project because it will aggravate the already serious situation and circumstances that these communities face on a day-to-day basis,” said Federico Cintrón Moscoso, director of El Puente, one of the three groups that filed the complaint.
“This lawsuit will bring justice closer to … the southwestern part of San Juan Bay,” Moscoso said. “These communities of Cataño and Guaynabo have struggled and dealt for years with the systemic placement of power plants and fuel terminals, which places a disproportionate burden on these disadvantaged communities whose population is predominantly made up of minorities.”
The lawsuit challenges the San Juan Bay dredging project, which would expand the transportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Puerto Rico and increase the amount of LNG transferred by tankers in San Juan Bay by 5.2 million gallons to 34.3 million gallons.
The lawsuit says the port expansion would also involve the dredging and removal of more than two million cubic meters of sediment to deepen and widen the shipping channels.
Environmental groups say this will lead to reliance on fossil fuels, “hindering Puerto Rico’s commitment to switching to renewable energy.”
“By deepening the shipping channel for fossil fuel imports, this project also deepens the climate crisis,” said Catherine Kilduff, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, another plaintiff in the lawsuit. “The Corps’ plan to dredge San Juan Bay is a disaster for the corals and wildlife that inhabit the sensitive estuary and for Puerto Rico’s plans to switch to renewable energy.”
Environmental groups point out that the dredging project threatens to “smother corals and suck in sea turtles”, including endangered leatherback turtles.
The lawsuit asserts that the Army Corps of Engineers ignored these critical dangers and that their “failure to disclose the adverse effects of LNG transportation and damage to nearby communities violates the National Environmental Policy Act.”
“The many different uses of this bay have been a growing burden on residential communities for decades,” said Mary Ann Lucking, director of CORALations, the third party involved in the lawsuit.
“But now, this expansion of the dredge introduces a new use that alone poses even greater risks to residents, a nearby hospital, the capital city of San Juan, a power plant, chain shipping. recreational, rescue and commercial supply, as well as significant risks to the natural and historical heritage of the people of Puerto Rico,” Lucking continued.
Environmental groups say the San Juan Bay dredging project was accelerated shortly after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico in 2017 and knocked out power on the island. At that time, they say the Army Corps of Engineers submitted an environmental assessment concluding that the project would have no significant environmental effects.
The lawsuit says thousands of residents living west of the main dredging areas were not considered or properly informed about the project. He also claims that the higher risks to these communities have not been assessed and that the project could damage important cultural resources.
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