In a settlement filed in federal district court in Seattle today, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have agreed to revoke their 1997 designation of a controversial ocean disposal site off the mouth of the Columbia River. Under that designation, the Corps was authorized to dump millions of cubic yards of dredge spoils on top of a productive Dungeness crab fishery. The lawsuit was filed in March 1998 by the Columbia River Crab Fisherman’s Association, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, and the Institute for Fisheries Resources, represented by the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.
The fishermen charged that the Corps and the EPA had violated federal environmental laws in 1997 when they decided to vastly expand two ocean dumpsites used for the disposal of sediments dredged from the Columbia River entrance channel without considering environmental impacts. One of these expanded sites covered fully 8 square miles of prime Dungeness crab habitat in the most heavily fished area off the mouth of the Columbia. This site has been revoked under the terms of the settlement agreement. The other site becomes dense with crabs in their vulnerable soft-shell state late in the summer. The Corps has agreed not to dump in this site after August 15th each year.
Although designated in 1997, the eight square mile site was never used. Unusually low dredging volumes in 1997 obviated the need to use the site that year. And this past summer, the Corps backed off its original plans to use the site after the fishermen filed suit. The real winner in this court action was the marine environment, commented Dale Beasley, Commissioner of the Columbia River Crab Fisherman’s Association. Eight square miles of prime crab and fish habitat was rescued from burial by millions of cubic yards of dredge spoils.
“There was simply no need for the Corps to dump there,” noted PCFFA’s Northwest Regional Director, Glen Spain. “None of us were saying don’t dredge the entrance channel, but why dump the stuff in the one place it will do the most damage to crab fishermen?”
The Corps and the EPA are currently evaluating alternatives for designation of a new site or sites and plan to release a draft Environmental Impact Statement for public review in the next several months. “Crab fishermen will continue to work with the Corps and EPA to find a reasonable disposal solution that protects the marine environment, promotes navigational safety, abates coastal erosion and preserves local fishing economies,” said Dale Beasley.
We hope the Corps and the EPA have learned now that they have to look carefully at environmental impacts before they pick a place to dump dredge spoils,” commented Amy Sinden, one of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund attorneys who filed the suit. “Last time they barely even mentioned crabs in their environmental documentation. I don’t think they’ll make that mistake again.”