Federal Court Rules that Army Corps of Engineers Violated Law
Representatives of the Gulf Islands Conservancy and Friends of the Earth today expressed satisfaction and claimed vindication at news that a federal judge has blocked construction of three casino resorts proposed in coastal Mississippi pending a thorough environmental impact study by the Army Corps of Engineers. The groups had challenged the casino projects in Bay St. Louis and Back Bay of Biloxi in a lawsuit filed last year by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.
The court ruled, "The [Corps'] actions in granting permits for the development of [the three projects] violated the National Environmental Policy Act." It further criticized the Corps, saying that the agency "never evaluated. . .the potential for the wetlands to be degraded by their proximity to the projects." "Even more problematic," the court concluded, "is the Corps' total lack of analysis of the growth-inducing effects of the casino projects."
"Mississippi is losing its wetlands at a terribly fast rate and the quality of life in our coastal communities has been jeopardized by the Corps' failure to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act," said Terese Collins of the Gulf Islands Conservancy. "The fight to protect our quality of life has been a long and hard one. We're delighted that the court has agreed with us that it would be foolish, as well as illegal, for the Corps to issue permits to these projects without first determining their impacts."
The ruling is a sweet ending to a bitter struggle for the Gulf Islands Conservancy, which was sued twice by casino developers for raising concerns about the need for an environmental impact statement ("EIS"). A federal court dismissed these lawsuits, a blatant attempt to squash the first amendment rights of Mississippi citizens. Gulf Islands Conservancy and Friends of the Earth have now prevailed in today's ruling that the Corps violated the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires an EIS for projects that have significant impacts on our environment.
Esther Boykin of Earthjustice added, "This ruling recognizes the very real concern that our clients and many other Mississippi residents have about the impacts of rampant growth of casino development on their coastal resources and infrastructure. The lesson here is that citizens can make a difference and protect their communities. This is a great day for the Gulf Coast."
The ruling is also vindication of several government agencies that had also urged the Corps to prepare an EIS, including the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.
The massive casino projects involved are Circus Circus and Casino World (planned for Bay St. Louis) and the Royal D'Iberville (planned for Back Bay of Biloxi). By way of example, the Casino World project would include two 600-foot-long casino barges, a 150-foot-diameter floating gazebo, and an elevated access road to the barges and gazebo, covering a total of just under 5 acres of water bottom. The development would also include, on the shore, a 450-room hotel, 2000-seat entertainment facility, tennis court complex, parking garage, golf course, and recreational vehicle park.