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EPA lawsuit over dredge site a win for local harbors

On Behalf of | Nov 9, 2020 | Land Use

The issue of where to dispose of dredged materials can lead to controversy. A failure to find an appropriate location can result in damage to the environment. Recently, the state of New York filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The issue: whether or not the EPA could name the Eastern Long Island Sound as an open-water dredge disposal site.

To come to a holding, the courts applied the Marine Protection, Research, and Safety Act (MPRSA) and the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA). The court noted lawmakers enacted MPRSA to compliment the Clean Water Act and mitigate the environmental impact of dumping in ocean waters. The Clean Water Act generally applies to waters within the United States while the MPRSA applies to those outside of the U.S. As such, MPRSA would not generally apply to waters such as the Long Island Sound, as it lies within the U.S. However, in 1980 lawmakers recognized the uniqueness of the Sound and extended MPRSA protections to include this body of water. This body of water is currently the only body of water within the U.S. covered by MPRSA.

Site designations matter

This is important because MPRSA governs site designations and permitting for disposals, such as the one at issue. In order to grant such a designation, the law requires the Secretary of the Army to issue a permit for disposal of dredged material if such disposal will not “unreasonable degrade or endanger human health, welfare, or amenities, or the marine environment, ecological systems, or economic potentialities.” Upon review, the court held that the EPA’s decision to use this site was based on substantial evidence and met all the requirements in choosing such a site.

Why does this matter? In addition to allowing the continuation of the project at issue — a submarine base — a ruling against the use of the dredge dump site would have also impacted local harbors. These harbors may have found it difficult to find a dump site when they dredge harbors to maintain the depths necessary for operations.