Dredging begins at Puerto Rico’s largest port as environmentalists warn of threats to sea turtles and corals

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — $62 million dredging project Puerto Rican The largest and most important seaport was launched on Wednesday amid fierce opposition from environmentalists and pending lawsuits.

Crews at California-based Curtin Marine will clear nearly 3 million cubic yards (76 million cubic feet) of seafloor to open San Juan Bay to larger ships, including for new liquefied natural gas for Puerto Rico’s north coast The terminal provides services to tankers.

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Officials said the dredged material will be dumped into the Atlantic two nautical miles (four kilometers) north of U.S. territory, subject to approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

A project to dredge Puerto Rico’s largest seaport began Wednesday amid opposition from environmentalists. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduungo)

Governor Pedro Pierluisi Indicates that the project consists of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers It is expected to provide a $400 million boost to the local economy, adding that the dredging work will be completed by October.

He dismissed concerns from environmentalists who said the project would endanger wildlife and humans. “This has been authorized at all federal levels, including any environmental impacts it may have,” he said.

In August 2022, the Arizona-based nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. government, saying the project could destroy coral and seagrass beds and suck out sea turtles and other marine life.

The lawsuit is pending in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., with the last hearing held in January.

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“We hope to make a decision as soon as possible,” Center for Biological Diversity attorney Catherine Kilduff said in a phone interview.

“Dredging itself creates sediment that kills corals,” she said. “These corals are affected by disease and warming waters, so we’re concerned that this dredging project … could be a death knell.”

Kilduff said the center is also concerned about manatees swimming in San Juan Bay, where they feed on seagrass and are attacked by boats.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last dredged the bay in the early 2000s and promised to plant an acre of seagrass, she said.

“They haven’t done that yet,” she said.

Kilduff noted that the federal government held a public comment period on the dredging project when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm in 2017, knocking out power or roads on the island.

A spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

As the governor shared details about the project Wednesday, a dredging vessel began working in the background.

Officials said the excavation will reach a depth of 46 feet (14 meters), compared with current depths of 36 feet (11 meters) to 42 feet (13 meters) in parts of San Juan Bay.

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“The Port of San Juan is an economic engine and critical lifeline for Puerto Rico,” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Col. Charles Decker said in the announcement. “This is an extraordinary investment in Puerto Rico’s future.”

The Corps invested nearly $45 million in the project, with the Puerto Rico government providing the remainder.

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By Ali Raza

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