Call it a split decision. The latest legal skirmish over the Deep Dredge devolved into an all-day court battle over contracts and language yesterday.
Despite the dredge drudgery, however, environmentalists emerged from federal court claiming important concessions in their ongoing battle against the Army Corps of Engineers, including almost half a million dollars in additional coral conservation.
"We got all of their bad behavior out in court," said Rachel Silverstein of Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper, one of the groups to sue the Corps. "The bottom line is that they finally have to clean up their act."
Under the agreement reached yesterday, the Corps agreed to pay more than $400,000 to move several hundred colonies of endangered staghorn coral that remain near the dredge site.
The Corps also agreed to reduce sediment and turbidity from the dredge project.
For years, environmentalists have warned that the dredge could damage local marine wildlife such as Miami's wide variety of coral, some of them found nowhere else in the world.
And that's exactly what environmentalists have documented since the dredge began a year ago, providing New Times as well as state and federal regulators with evidence of a widespread coral die-off.
The Corps declined to comment on yesterday's court hearing, and instead referred New Times to the Department of Justice. A DOJ spokesman did not return requests for comment.
In exchange for the Corps's increased coral rescue efforts and promise to clean up its act, environmentalists dropped their request for an injunction that could have brought the entire dredge to a sudden (and expensive) halt.
Silverstein said she felt they had won enough reassurances.
"We feel really good about that because as you know the next stages of the dredge are moving inside Biscayne Bay," she said. "If we hadn't stepped in and held the Corps accountable, we would see the same type of habitat apocalypse that we've seen on the reefs, where the corals has just been devastated."
Still, Silverstein noted that the environmentalists have a lawsuit pending against the Corps and can take the Army back to court if it once again breaks its promises.
"We will be watching very closely as this project continues," she said.
Silverstein said that even bringing the Corps to the bargaining table was a victory.
"I'm proud and impressed that a tiny organization like us or the other plaintiffs can call on the Army Corps of Engineers, this behemoth of bureaucracy, and they have to appear down here and be held accountable," she said, adding that the agreement was "an amazing outcome."
Other environmentalists were unsure, however.
"This is bullshit," retired Biscayne Bay boat captain Dan Kipnis. "I've never seen a government agency bulldoze the environment and people who care about it and lie, cheat and steal like they have here."
Kipnis said the Corps's latest promises are too little, too late: the damage to Miami's corals is done.
"They are dead, man!" he said of the corals. "They have been stressed as shit. They are picking up corpses and moving them."
He said that all Miamians should be worried about the dredge project, if not because of the environmental devastation, then because of the potential damage to taxpayers' pocketbooks.
"If the Corps gets out of here without being cited, then the county is on the hook," Kipnis said. "That's why we sued them in the first place: to do in the right way. Instead, they killed the reef for two miles on one side, two miles on the other. They didn't move the corals they were supposed to move. And they don't want to clean it up."
"When the project is done," Kipnis warned, "Miami-Dade County is one the hook for the whole mitigation, clean up, the whole thing."
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