EPA recommends denial of Oslo Road boat ramp expansion – Dr. Grant Gilmore finds critical game fish at dredge & fill site

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
January 2011

As noted in my last Hoot, PIAS has requested an administrative hearing to contest the St. Johns River Water Management District, decision to grant a dredge and fill permit to Indian River County (IRC) to fill in three acres of wetlands at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA) and dredge to an access channel 2.5 feet deep, 35 foot wide, and 210 feet east into the Indian River Lagoon and our Aquatic Preserve at ORCA. This administrative hearing will take place before Judge Bram Canter, an Administrative Law Judge, starting on January 19th at 9:00 am in the IRC Administration Building A (you are welcome to attend). The hearing is scheduled for three days. Support for our position in opposition to the project came recently from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA conducted an on-site inspection and wrote a letter to the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE) expressing their concern for IRC’s plan to dredge and fill important wetlands at the Oslo Road Boat Ramp.

The EPA wrote that “wetlands at the project site perform many valuable ecological functions, including providing fish and wildlife habitat, food chain support, natural water quality improvement, shoreline erosion protection and flood storage.” They also noted “the coastal freshwater and tidal wetlands provide valuable breeding and nursery areas, as well as food and habitat support for regionally important commercial/ recreational fishing and shellfishing industries.” Both the EPA and the State of Florida recognized the nationally significant ecological resources of the Indian River Lagoon by incorporating the Lagoon into the National Estuary Program.

EPA consulted with the USACOE Regional Manager, state and federal resource agencies, the county’s engineer, and the county’s hired environmental consultant (since 2002). The EPA determined that the quality of the wetlands to be impacted and the size of the proposed wetland filling of 3 acres of functional tidal mangrove swamp was significant to the sensitive aquatic resources and “the potential to cause or contribute to significant degradation of water of the United States.” Federal guidelines and those of the Clean Water Act of February 1990 prohibit all of the above, and it “may have substantial and unacceptable adverse impact on Aquatic Resources of National Importance” and the EPA “therefore recommend denial of the project, as currently proposed.”

In addition, the EPA was concerned that the mitigation for destroying wetlands was not appropriate or adequate. Moreover, the EPA wrote: “Multiple public boat launching facilities with associated parking exist in Indian River County (within close proximity to the Oslo Road facility) that provide access to deep water.” In fact, PIAS has repeatedly stated to the County Commission that IRC has twice the amount of boat facilities than FL Department of Environmental Protection recommends as a minimum.

Support for the EPA concerns was reinforced by Dr. Grant Gilmore, a noted research Ichthyologist, who seined for fish recently in the areas to be dredged and filled for the enlarged parking lot, paved road, and stormwater pond. Please note the photographs of some of the immature nursery game fish he found in these specific areas scheduled to be dredged and filled: red drum, mangrove snapper, sheepshead, and common snook. Dr. Gilmore states that these fish will grow up in this important fish nursery at ORCA and will be essential for our local and state commercial and recreational fishing industry. Of course, he collected many other species of fish, crabs, and seagrasses there, major elements of the food chain in the Indian River Lagoon critical for nearby wildlife — dolphin, manatee, and a bird rookery.

Other organizations recognizing the direct consequences of this dredge and fill project impacting the area with larger boats are: Marine Resources Council, Sierra Club, Audubon of Florida, Indian River Keeper, Friends of the St. Sebastian River, Save the Manatee Club, fishermen, scientists, and even IRC’s own Conservation Lands Advisory Committee. Our lawyer, Marcy LaHart has assembled an excellent team of experienced expert witnesses that will testify in opposition to the permit, but these professionals need to be paid for their hard work on our behalf. So far we have received $5,000 in donations to fund our fight against the destruction of the ORCA wetlands, but we need $13, 500 more.

Please add your contribution to this worthwhile legal action that PIAS has embarked upon.

Happy New Year to you all!

Make donations out to:
Pelican Island Audubon Society
P.O. Box 1833
Vero Beach, FL 32961

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