(Mobile, Ala.) - The Mobile District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, recently announced that it will extend the comment period an additional 30 days for the Mobile Harbor Integrated Final General Evaluation Report (GRR) with Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), the ship channel environmental impact study. The agency comment period closing date is now extended to Thursday, July 18, 2019.
In June 2014, the Alabama State Port Authority (the Port) submitted a request to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) to consider dredging the Mobile Harbor Ship Channel. This project would deepen and widen the Channel to allow larger ships to pass through more quickly. This dredging includes 1) deepening the Bar, Bay, and River Channels by 5 to 52 feet; 2) incorporating bend easings in the Bar Channel; 3) widening the Bay Channel by 400 to 500 feet for 3 miles; and 4) expanding the Choctaw Pass Turning Basin by 250 feet to the south.
"A revision to Appendix E of the final report makes the [comment period] extension necessary," Cesar Yabor, chief of Public Affairs, said. “Mobile District welcomes any additional agency inputs received during this extended comment.”
Appendix E is the SEIS, whose purpose is to understand the environmental impact of the project. The SEIS determines the current status of the environment and compares it with the environmental impacts that the project would cause, along with possible alternatives. Its purpose is to help the Corps and the Port determine how to mitigate any damages caused by the dredging.
The study concludes there will be “no impacts” from this immense development. After speaking with local experts and community members, and doing our own research, local environmental group Mobile Baykeeper believe the Corps and the Port are underestimating the project’s impacts to our natural resources. The dredging will likely significantly affect Mobile Bay, surrounding communities, property values, and economies that depend on clean water, such as fishing and tourism.
“The SEIS in its current form is simply not enough,” says Casi Callaway, Executive Director of Mobile Baykeeper. “Failing to account for the environmental impacts of dredging affects our environment, our quality of life, and our local economy. We want our community to safely swim, fish, work, and play in our Bay for decades to come. And we can’t do that unless the Corps conducts a thorough study so they can reduce any potential damages.”
Mobile Baykeeper contends that deepening and widening the ship channel would impact our water quality, shorelines, wetlands, seagrasses, air quality, and commercial and recreational fish and shellfish. Changing the hydrology of the bay would extend saltwater boundaries, which means freshwater wetlands could die. The increased salinity would impact oysters, fish, and more. With larger ships comes a deeper draft, which increases shoreline erosion. It also sucks oyster larvae into the system and flushes them out. Larger and more frequent passing ships would decrease our air quality, particularly in low-income communities, due to truck traffic. Dredging itself negatively affects water quality, resulting in fish kills and muddier water, which kills seagrasses and the marine life that depends on them. The disposal of dredge material can also damage locations where it is dumped. With the multitude of potential long term impacts likely to result from the ship channel expansion, it is critical that the Corps conduct a thorough study.
Mobile Baykeeper has been providing recommendations and expressing concerns from their research and conversations with their members and experts. Citizens curious about the dredging can learn more and submit a comment at mobilebaykeeper.org/shipchannel. Comments can also be mailed or emailed to:
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
P.O. Box 2288
Mobile, AL 36628