Jacksonville FL, December 1, 2018 – Last Wednesday, FloridaPolitics.com reported Congressman John Rutherford’s announcement that “JAXPORT’s dredging of 11 miles of the St. Johns River scored important financial backing Wednesday, after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers budgeted $46 million more toward it in its FY 2019 work plan.,” and that “TU.S. Rep. John Rutherford, a Jacksonville Republican, lauded the funds as a “major victory for our region.”
The St. Johns Riverkeeper shared this immediate response to that announcement:
While we do not question Congressman’s Rutherford’s commitment to Northeast Florida, we do fear that he has fallen into the historical trap of supporting dredging of the St. Johns River with a blind eye to the risks.
We all want a successful port, but sadly dredging without mitigation to offset the impacts threatens the future health and wellbeing of our river, our community and our neighborhoods.
For decades, the St. Johns River has been deepened, straightened and manipulated to allow bigger and bigger ships to access Jacksonville’s port. Earlier this year, The Florida Times-Union released a special report, As the Ocean Creeps In, that takes a look at how these alterations to the river have impacted saltwater intrusion, tide levels, and storm surge.
According to the report, “The river is now a superhighway for Atlantic Ocean water, which in the event of a major storm could present greater risk to downtown and the neighborhoods around it even though they are miles away from the river’s mouth….In chasing its dreams of a deepwater port, the city has brought the Atlantic Ocean to its doorstep.”
Yet, “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers…has never studied how more than a century of work [dredging] might make the city more vulnerable to storm surge and flooding.”
Unfortunately, this is also holds true for the current dredging project.
According to the Corps, water levels in the river may increase up to 12% during “high frequency” storms, as a result of deepening the channel from its current depth of 40’ to 47’. In addition, storm surge height is projected to increase by as much as 8 or 9 inches in parts of the river.
Remarkably, the Corps continues to downplay the potential risk from higher water levels and storm surge as insignificant without providing detailed information to support this illogical conclusion.
But, as we know from Hurricane Irma, inches do matter and cannot be simply dismissed or ignored as inconsequential. Increases in water levels and storm surge would put our public infrastructure, businesses, and homes and the health of our river and our families at greater risk from flooding and pollution. When widespread flooding occurs, water often causes sewer systems to back up and sewage to be discharged into nearby streets and waterways. Flood waters also often flush chemicals and contaminants from roads, parking lots and industrial and hazardous waste sites into surrounding neighborhoods and our river, creating additional health hazards.
As a result, we need our elected leaders to step up and demand that all of the impacts of dredging are thoroughly assessed and mitigated, so that our community and our river will not become even more vulnerable to rising waters and saltwater intrusion.
If Congressman Rutherford and his fellow elected leaders fail to do so, then they must also be prepared to accept responsibility for the consequences of an unmitigated dredging project that failed to fully assess the impacts.
The bottom line is that this project is currently a threat to this community and our river. In addition, the Army Corps projected rise in water levels and acceleration of sea level rise resulting from the dredging is also a threat to JAXPORT.
According to the recently released Fourth National Climate Assessment, “large ports in the Southeast, such as Charleston, Savannah, and Jacksonville, and the rails and roads that link to them, are particularly vulnerable to both coastal flooding and sea level rise.”
“Sea level rise is already causing an increase in high tide flood events in the Southeast region and is adding to the impact of more extreme coastal flooding events. In the future, this flooding is projected to become more serious, disruptive, and costly as its frequency, depth, and inland extent grow with time.”
We urgently request Congressmen Rutherford and Lawson to initiate a full investigation to determine how rising waters and the dredging will impact our community, our homes and our river.
The time for bi-partisan action is now.
Learn more about the Riverkeeper at http://www.stjohnsriverkeeper.org/