Protect Florida Manatees From Disastrous Dredging

  • by: Center for Biological Diversity
  • recipient: Colonel Alfred A. Pantano, Jr., U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Section Chief Charles Schnepel, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Melinda Hogan, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Miles Croom, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Dr. Heath Rauschenberger
Federal agencies are currently reviewing the permit application for the SunWest-Harbourtowne channel project and are being asked to sign off on a dredging operation that would cause unprecedented destruction to Florida's Gulf Coast natural resources. The nearly five-mile-long, 85-foot-wide channel would cut through the seagrass of Fillman Bayou and invite traffic from hundreds of boats every day.

Fillman Bayou is one of the largest intact coastal ecosystems left in Florida. It supports seagrass beds that provide vital nursery and feeding habitat to many Gulf species, including Florida manatees and game fish. And there's no evidence the channel is needed: the newly reopened Hernando Beach channel is wider, deeper and shorter than this proposal -- saving time and fuel for boaters.

Take action now to tell the Army Corps of Engineers and other decision-makers that this unnecessary project is not in the public interest: deny the permit.
SUBJECT: Protect Pasco County's Natural Heritage

Dear [Decision Maker],

Please deny the SunWest-Harbourtowne application to dredge a nearly five-mile-long, 85-foot-wide mega-channel through Fillman Bayou in Pasco County. The task of the Army Corps of Engineers is clearly to protect our public resources from this harmful proposal.

While the stated intention of the proposed dredging operation is to benefit Pasco County residents via a proposed county park, it appears to be mostly for the benefit of the future residents of the planned SunWest-Harbourtowne mega-resort. This proposed project boasts 2500 residential units, a 250-room hotel, and 500-slip marina. Aside from the developer's proposed boatlift and mega-channel, the resort would be landlocked. The pending permit for the boatlift and channel dredging may be the only things preventing the resort's residents and tourists from spoiling the wild bayou.

The SunWest-Harbourtowne developer has insisted that the mega-resort and county park projects are independent and should be evaluated separately, but the facts do not bear this out. A real estate listing for SunWest-Harbourtowne brags that it will be "the first and largest Gulf channel to be permitted in over 50 years," and the SunWest-Harbourtowne website acknowledges that "central to the resort community is deep-water boat access."

Even if we could believe that dredging was meant to benefit Pasco County, and not the future residents of the mega-resort, there is no credible evidence that we need additional boat access to the Gulf. Boat registrations in Pasco County have dropped by 18 percent since 2000 and the newly reopened Hernando Beach channel is wider, deeper and shorter than this proposal -- saving time and fuel for boaters.

In addition to being unnecessary, the project does not provide the required, minimum 2 to 1 seagrass mitigation; it proposes the use of the sides of the channel itself as a Seagrass Protection Zone; it contains no assurances for the successful regrowth of seagrass; and it does not provide ongoing monitoring. In March 2011, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection estimated that Florida's coastal seagrass contributed $40 billion to the state's ecological services. It also estimated that Florida coastal seagrass acreage dropped from 5 million acres in the 1950s to 2.7 million acres in 2000, with another loss of half a million acres in the last 10 years. Seagrass provides nurseries for fish, shellfish and crustaceans. Without them Florida would experience a huge economic and ecosystem loss. This area in particular is fed by freshwater springs that provide a warm-water refuge and fresh water resource for Florida's beloved manatees.

The decision before the Army Corps is vital to the health of this essential habitat for signature fish species and other marine life. The devastating primary, secondary and cumulative impacts of this project make the decision easy: This project is bad for Florida's Nature Coast and is against the public interest. The people of Florida depend on our decision-makers and representatives to protect these public resources.

Please, deny this permit.
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