Environmental groups sue Corps to halt lock on Industrial Canal

Michelle Massey Jun. 17, 2010, 4:00am


Several non-profit groups are suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in an attempt to stop the continued construction of a lock replacement project on the Industrial Canal.

Holy Cross Neighborhood Associations, Gulf Restoration Network, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Citizens Against Widening the Industrial Canal and Sierra Club filed suit against the Corps June 10 in federal court in New Orleans.

The groups say the project will impact their communities through the disposal, storage and release of contaminated sediments into surrounding wetlands. They argue the project will reduce the quality of their lives by imposing annoying and potentially harmful noise and pollution while reducing the visual beauty of their areas.

In 2006, a federal court enjoined the Corps from construction on the lock replacement project on the Industrial Canal until it complied with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The court found that the Corps failed to adequately address the risks of flooding and hurricanes and "therefore, there is no way to know what environmental impacts these facilities will have on the ecosystem."

The Corps, however, continues to work on the project that is predicted to dredge at least three million cubic yards of sediment and dump most of it into the nearby Bayou Bienvenue, the complaint states.

In 2005, the Corps admitted the disposal violates "applicable water quality criteria and a waiver would be required." The Corps issued a 2009 supplemental environmental impact statement.

The environmental groups now say the Corps has failed to fully assess the environmental impacts of the lock replacement project and select an alternative with less harmful effects.

Specifically, the petitioners argue the Corps has failed to consider constructing a "shallow draft" alternative. The shallow draft would require the Corps to dredge and dispose of an estimated 1.533 million cubic yards of material as opposed to the deep-draft lock would require the dredging and disposal of more than three million cubic yards of material.

The plaintiffs are asking the Court to enjoin the Corps from further implementation of the lock replacement project until it complies with the NEPA and the Clean Water Act. They also want the Court to rule the Corps' construction of a deep-draft lock is in violation of the 2006 Court order, NEPA and the Clean Water Act.

The project is costing more than $1 billion and has not been fully funded for years, with the current budget withholding all funding for the project.

New Orleans attorney Adam Babich of Tulane Environmental Law Clinic is representing the petitioners.

U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon is assigned to the case.

Case No. 2:10cv01715

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