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After Lawsuit, Additional Studies Planned For Port Everglades Coral

A planned expansion of Port Everglades involves dredging that environmental groups fear will harm endangered corals.
Port Everglades
A planned expansion of Port Everglades involves dredging that environmental groups fear will harm endangered corals.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers said this week it will conduct additional studies at Port Everglades in Hollywood to determine how dredging during a planned expansion could impact fragile coral reefs.

The announcement comes after environmental groups and a diving association sued over studies the groups said were outdated.

"This has been a long time coming," said Rachel Silverstein, executive director of Miami Waterkeeper, which was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in August. "Our goal has never been to stop the project entirely. We just want the reefs to be protected during the dredging and the law to be followed."

Silverstein said the goal of the lawsuit was to get the Corps to revisit environmental assessments and update planning documents to reflect widespread harm to coral reefs that occurred during a similar dredging project at PortMiami. Sediment from that project, which was completed last year, damaged or killed a mile-wide swath of coral.

The Corps opted to conduct the studies rather than face the lawsuit, so Silverstein's group and the others put a stay on the suit this week. The environmental groups are claiming victory, but Port Everglades representatives say new studies are just another step in planned environmental stewardship for the $374 million expansion.

"This is something that was always contemplated, that additional studies would be required as we were going through the design phase," said Steven Cernak, executive director of Port Everglades. "We are committed... to allow this project to come to fruition while minimizing the impact on the corals."

Some of those corals are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Cernak said Port Everglades project staff are looking into using nursery-raised corals to help support the reef.

Court documents show deepening and widening of the port channel won’t start until at least June 1, 2019. But Cernak says he doesn’t anticipate a delay in the port expansion. He says while the impacts of dredging are being studied, other components of the expansion -- such as the relocation of a Coast Guard base -- can go on.

The expansion will enable Port Everglades to accommodate massive "Panamax" ships passing through the recently expanded Panama Canal. The port expansion is expected to be completed by 2022, and has been lauded for its potential to create jobs at the port and the surrounding area.

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Kate Stein can't quite explain what attracts her to South Florida. It's more than just the warm weather (although this Wisconsin native and Northwestern University graduate definitely appreciates the South Florida sunshine). It has a lot to do with being able to travel from the Everglades to Little Havana to Brickell without turning off 8th Street. It's also related to Stein's fantastic coworkers, whom she first got to know during a winter 2016 internship.Officially, Stein is WLRN's environment, data and transportation journalist. Privately, she uses her job as an excuse to rove around South Florida searching for stories à la Carl Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan. Regardless, Stein speaks Spanish and is always thrilled to run, explore and read.