Help Protect Manatee Habitat
Please send a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers to impress upon them, once again, the unnecessary and environmentally destructive nature of a proposed project and ask that this project be denied. Please send your letter as quickly as possible, as the deadline for comments ends September 19th.
Sign an online petition (copy/paste URL into your browser):
And/or better yet, make direct contact:
Corps’ Project Manager for Sunwest
INFORMATION / TALKING POINTS
We first contacted you about the SunWest Park Development and associated SunWest Harbourtown project in Aripeka in Pasco County back in December 2011. The project included dredging a 3.1 mile long, 85-foot-wide channel through Fillman’s Bayou to provide boater access to the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, a decision has yet to be made by the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and we once again ask for your help to ensure this project is denied.
On September 4, 2012, the Corps issued a new public notice for this project after the applicant decreased the dredging width from 65 feet to 60 feet, increased the amount of submerged aquatic resources (SAV) to be impacted from 11.8 acres to 28.8 acres, and created a new mitigation plan to compensate for the impacts to SAV. These changes only reinforce our concerns about the significant negative impact this project will have on manatees and their habitat.
I am writing today to ask that the Corps deny the SunWest Park application in Pasco County, Florida (SAJ-2007-05788). I am deeply concerned with the proposed creation of a new 3.0 mile channel, which would contribute to the calculated 28.8 acres of impact to submerged aquatic resources, in addition to separate wetlands impacts. These impacts to submerged aquatic resources are more than double the impacts proposed in the previous public notice. Seagrass beds not only provide food and habitat to manatees, but to many other commercially important species including gamefish and shellfish. Even with the changes proposed in the latest public notice on September 4, 2012, the impacts to both manatees and their habitat would be unacceptable.
Of the many concerns I have about this project, I am specifically concerned that a thorough review of the impacts this project may have on manatees and their habitat was not performed. Under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Corps are charged with ensuring a project "is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of habitat of such species…" (ESA Sect. 7 (a)(2)). Yet there has been no effort by these federal agencies to collect manatee sighting data in this area to determine the effects that the project would have on manatees. However, there has been significant data collected by the local citizens proving the importance of this location to manatees. Although these sightings were not collected as part of a scientifically designed and controlled study, these sighting data are consistent with expected manatee use within the sphere of influence of the proposed project and should be considered by the FWS as part of their review for this project.
In addition, the FWS has not compensated for the decrease in the level of protection manatees and their habitat would receive as a result of this project. When the project was originally proposed, FWS concluded that if certain measures were conditioned in the permit, including year-round idle and slow speed zones near the facility, educational signage, seagrass protection zones, boater education, and enforcement, manatees would be adequately protected and the effect determination could be reduced to "not likely to adversely affect the manatee." However, the majority of the speed zones were not approved by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). When asked to consult again on the project, FWS did not change their previous conclusion. It would seem that a reduction in the protective measures conditioned to reduce the impacts to manatees should have resulted in a change in the level of impact. However, this was not seen.
Please deny this project as currently proposed. The project would put manatees in serious danger and would cause permanent damage to aquatic resources. The review by federal agencies was inadequate and the sighting data by local citizens should be considered viable data. It is clear this location is frequently used by manatees and is an important habitat for their survival.
Thank you for your consideration of these comments.
Thank you for everything you do for animals!
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