Feds recommend denial of County’s dredge and fill project

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

PIAS was formed in order to protect Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, America’s first wildlife refuge, in 1961.  PIAS roots go back to 1961 as the Indian River Preservation Society, whose early members were comprised of citrus growers, commercial fishermen, sportsmen and concerned citizens that mobilized a successful grass-roots community effort to expand the boundaries of the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the nation’s first refuge, when a proposed dredge and fill development project threatened the refuge. The organization was successful in convincing the State of Florida to declare the wetlands sovereign land.  From its success at Pelican Island the organization became affiliated with the National Audubon Society and changed its name to the Pelican Island Audubon Society.

PIAS is still the voice of conservation in Indian River County (IRC).  PIAS’ opposition to the Oslo Road boat ramp dredge and fill project is a continuation of this historic legacy. It is poetic that this time the Feds have come to our aid for what must be for them a very small issue of a small ramp at the end of a dirt road in Indian River County.

We were scheduled to begin a three day administrative hearing regarding the St Johns River Water Management District’s permit to IRC on January 19, 2011. The New Year began with three days of depositions.  Our experts deposed were Pat Rose (Executive Director of the Save the Manatee Club), Leonard Nero (environment consultant), and Dr. Grant Gilmore (world renowned research ichthyologist-fish expert).  All did an outstanding job in showing the scientific reasons for refuting the variance and permit application given by St. Johns River Water Management District to Indian River County. Additionally, our attorney, Marcy LaHart, deposed key District and County witnesses.

As a result of our standing up and initiating this case, the US Environmental Protection Agency  (EPA), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have taken note of our action and have written strongly worded letters to the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE) recommending denial of the project as proposed.  Your letters also were important as indicated in a letter from the USACOE to IRC “In addition, numerous comments have been received from the public recommending denial of the project.” 

Map of Herb Kale Nature Trail at ORCA.

All these agencies are concerned with the county’s proposal to widen and pave the dirt road and parking lot, fill valuable wetlands for a larger parking lot, and dredge in an environmentally sensitive area containing important nursery habitat for our county’s important recreation and commercial fish and shellfish industries.  These agencies also indicated that the mitigation proposed is not appropriate for the damage that would be done to the environment. They cite that the project goes against many federal laws including the Clean Water Act and even violates the county’s own Manatee Protection Plan! They suggest that the county find alternative sites including the historic 45th St. boat ramp, and, if needed, increase parking and ramp facilities at Riverside Park and Round Island, which are only a few miles away.

Trial preparation came to a screeching halt when, on January 10, 2011, IRC filed a motion requesting that the administrative law judge close the case (relinquish jurisdiction), because it wished to modify the permit in order to further reduce impacts. The Administrative Law Judge denied the motion, and instead granted our attorney’s request to place the case in abeyance for 120 days, directing the parties to update him on the status of the matter by April 12, 2011.  On January 11, the USACOE gave IRC 30 days to submit a response to the Feds concerns before there is a final decision.

The county needs to be protective of our marine life, fish nurseries, seagrasses, and mangrove swamps.  The Indian River Lagoon is our county’s most precious resource that needs to be preserved for us all.  Other regions have rainforests, painted deserts, and soaring mountains, which also need protection, but the Lagoon is our county’s natural wonder. County authorities should understand this by looking elsewhere for a place for big boats within the120 days the judge gave them, or in this time period, the St. Johns River Water Management District, seeing the Federal Government’s strong opposition, should pull the county’s permit.

PIAS will continue it’s mission to work towards holding officials accountable to “preserve and protect the animals, plants, and natural communities in IRC through advocacy, education, and public awareness” as it started in 1961.  That means our working with the county to save the Lagoon for future generations.

Thank you for sending your letters to the agencies and your contributions to carry out our mission to Save Our Lagoon.  We have received $9,510, but need $8,990 more to pay legal and consulting bills.t

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

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