Court Orders Consideration of Dredging Alternatives

SEATTLE, Washington, December 13, 2002 (ENS) - The non-profit public interest law firm law firm Earthjustice is hailing it as "a victory for clean water, wildlife, and taxpayers." A coalition of conservation and fishing organizations won a court ruling Thursday that halts the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' plans to dredge the lower Snake River this winter.

A district court judge in Seattle has prohibited the dredging, set to begin on December 15, because the Corps had failed to resolve major legal, scientific and environmental issues surrounding the project, Earthjustice said. The court agreed with the conservation groups that proceeding with dredging this winter could "irreparably harm" salmon and steelhead in the Snake.

The plaintiffs charged that "the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated federal law and ignored sound science and economics by dismissing alternatives to dredging that would protect the Snake River, save taxpayers money and meet local economic needs," said Earthjustice.

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Snake River, Birds of Prey National Conservation Area (Photo courtesy U.S. Interior Department Bureau of Land Management Lower Snake River District, Boise, Idaho)
The plaintiff groups are the National Wildlife Federation, Washington Wildlife Federation, Idaho Rivers United, Idaho Wildlife Federation, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Association, the Institute for Fisheries Resources and the Sierra Club. The Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho filed papers with the Court supporting the coalition.

"The Corps tried to tell the Court a fish story about the big one that got away when it argued that dredging wouldn't harm the Snake River," said Todd True an attorney at Earthjustice which represented the plaintiffs. "The Court didn't bite and as a result everyone in the Northwest will benefit."

"We will have a chance to take another look at this project, including alternatives to dredging that will protect the environment and save taxpayers money," True said.

"It took a lawsuit to affirm what we've been saying all along about this project," said Jan Hasselman, counsel at the National Wildlife Federation's (NWF) Northwestern Natural Resource Center in Seattle.

"Plans to dredge the Snake cannot proceed until the agency answers legal and scientific questions and considers cost-effective alternatives that will better protect the environment," she said.

The court agreed that the Corps' Environmental Impact Statement ignores alternatives to dredging and levee construction that would achieve its barge navigation goals on the Snake River and better safeguard the environment and taxpayers.

Hasselman said the injunction is not expected to interfere with ongoing barge navigation or have "noticeable" economic impacts. "This injunction gives us the 'time out' we need to resolve the legal and scientific problems that the Corps has created, and prevents further destruction of important habitat and water quality in the meantime.