U.S. waterways plan is a lawsuit over species impacts
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- Environmental group claims federal Marine Highway program increases the risks of harm to endangered species.
The North Atlantic right whale, according to an environmental group, is at risk of being caught by a United States effort to expand commercial use of navigable waterways, despite repercussions for an already endangered species, in sworn testimony filed in Newport News, Virginia federal court on Tuesday.
The Center for Biological Diversity accuses the U.S. Maritime Administration, part of the Department of Transportation, of violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with its America's Marine Highway initiative by failing to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure the program does not compromise species protected under the statute.
Many of the marine highways are in critical habitats for ESA-listed species, such as humpback whales and leatherback sea turtles, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
The program, which is more than a decade old, received 'a nearly $11 million boost this year to encourage shippers to use its 25,000-mile network of navigable waterways, rather than congested roads,' The Center for Biological Diversity claims that this could lead to more ship accidents and other threats to ESA-listed species.
The Maritime Administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Jared Margolis, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in stating that the federal government "can't continue to sacrifice our waters and wildlife by ignoring the impacts of statewide harm from 'a program that has the potential to cause widespread harm'."
The Marine Highway initiative was created in 2007 to assist alleviate road congestion by creating marine corridors. Seine designated waterways often run alongside major highways and may be used as alternatives to land transport.
In May, the Maritime Administration announced it would provide $10.8 million in grants to increase vessel traffic on the marine highways, which run on water bodies like rivers, bays and coastal areas of oceans.
One project that sought some of the funds is the James River Container Expansion Project, which transports goods along the Virginia River. The project seeks to improve an existing container shipping service.
According to the lawsuit, the river is a designated critical habitat for 'a distinct population segment' of Atlantic sturgeon that is listed as endangered under the ESA and is susceptible to vessel strikes.
Center for Biological Diversity v. United States Maritime Administration, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, no. 4:21-cv-00132.
Hannah Connor and Jared Margolis, with the Center for Biological Diversity, are currently on the faculty of the center.
Sebastien Malo reports on environmental, climate, and energy issues with reporters on Sebi Malou. Sebastien.malo at firstname.lastname@example.org