Army Corps Of Engineers sued over wetlands degradation

By RAJU CHEBIUM Associated Press Writer


Jan. 30, 1997

MIAMI -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does little to prevent the indiscriminate draining of the Everglades and sensitive wetlands in the Florida Keys, contributing greatly to the decline of one of the nation's most unique ecosystems, a federal lawsuit charged Thursday.

The Corps is shirking its responsibility by failing to enforce the federal Clean Water Act, which seeks to protect the nation's wetlands and waterways, according to the lawsuit filed by two environmental groups.

"The Army Corps is really not complying with the Clean Water Act they're charged with implementing, and they're not doing their job. So the result is that a gross number of wetlands are getting filled that should not be," said Gregg Goldfarb, a Miami lawyer who sued on behalf of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Florida Keys Citizens Coalition.

"Wetlands are an extremely important part of the environment all over the world, particularly in South Florida and the Keys. What we're talking about is the incessant, increasing destruction of the wetlands throughout South Florida and the Keys," said Jeff DeBonis, PEER's executive director.

The groups seeks a court order forcing the Corps to comply with the water act; they say they have evidence of flagrant violations and corruption at the agency.
Goldfarb acknowledged he has a tough job ahead because it's difficult to get courts to issue such orders. But he said he has evidence that the Corps' actions are "arbitrary, capricious and without reason."

One of the groups' biggest allegations is the way the Corps gives out permits to governments and private businesses.

The Corps refused comment on the lawsuit. Spokeswoman Carol Sanders in Washington defended the agency, saying it does a good job of balancing the interests of the environment and the needs of businesses, developers, local governments and other groups.

The Corps is a key player in the $1.5-billion Everglades restoration project. Though state and local governments and other federal agencies all have a hand in the restoration of the unique ecosystem, the Corps' involvement stretches back several decades.

The Corps planned a network of canals to control water flow within the Everglades and supply drinking water to South Florida's burgeoning population.

1997 News-Journal Corp.
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