The Coalition To Protect Puget Sound Habitat filed a legal Petition today with the US Army Corps of Engineers, asking that the Corps suspend the use of the Clean Water Act Nationwide Permit 48, which allows industrial aquaculture activities in Puget Sound.
The Coalition contends that the Corps has authorized too many of these industrial style shellfish operations. This Petition follows on the heels of the same group prevailing in Thurston County Superior Court. On April 3, 2015 the Court upheld a Shorelines Hearings Board Decision that ruled there was insufficient cumulative impact analysis in a Pierce County Shoreline permit for one of the industrial aquaculture projects at issue.The Conservation group cited and submitted over 51 studies and other documents, supporting their Petition. They claim the Corps is acting unlawfully, by continuing to issue permits without adequate analysis of the impacts.
Numerous detailed comments have been filed by the Coalition with the Corps, and with County planners, opposing operations of the sort allowed by NWP 48. Scientists have pointed to scientific studies documenting harm of many types from industrial scale aquaculture, including plastic pollution in Puget Sound waters. Shellfish operations use hundreds of thousands of plastic PVC tubes, High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) netting, plastic bands, HDPE oyster bags and HDPE mussel disks for their operations.
Scientists who have looked closely at the issue say the resulting plastic debris and plastic particles harm aquatic life. According to Charles Moore, the world renowned marine plastic debris expert who has testified for the Coalition in a recent Shorelines Hearings Board proceeding: “At the present time, it does not appear possible to introduce any conventional plastic into the marine environment, without harmful consequences.”
At the heart of the Coalition challenge is an analysis that the Seattle District of the Corps did when NWP 48 was reauthorized in 2012. That analysis presumed that the permit would be used only about 50 times a year, for 5 years. So the impact evaluation that the Corps conducted was premised on a maximum number of shellfish operations of roughly 250. However, in the first 2 years of the NWP’s existence, the Corps has already received over 1,000 applications and already issued over 900 permits. A map of the applications provided by the Coalition shows in stark contrast the enormous number of applications approved or pending in South Puget Sound.
The Conservation group contends that the Corps should have long ago stepped back and reevaluated. Laura Hendricks, a Citizen Representative said her members were outraged that the Corps continued to process and issued these permits, after it should have become clear to the Corps in the first 6-8 months that they had grossly underestimated the number of shellfish operations that would seek authorization under NWP 48.
“We’ve been advocating for a cumulative impacts analysis to be completed for years” said Hendricks. “For some reason, the Corps simply refuses to listen.” Coalition to Protect Puget Sound representative Curt Puddicombe was equally upset: “We don’t understand why the Corps continues to process permits at this insane pace. They are supposed to be implementing the Clean Water Act in a way that does not allow harm to the public interest, and they are supposed to take a thorough ‘hard look’ at the environmental impacts of a project, before they approve it. Instead, they seem to be using a proverbial ‘rubber stamp’ and allowing the commercial shellfish industry to potentially damage the Sound with an excessive number of industrial scale aquaculture operations.”
This legal action comes shortly after the Coalition voiced opposition to the shellfish industry’s use of pesticides in Washington marine waters and the intended spraying of the new pesticide Imidacloprid. After public outcry, the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) canceled the Imidacloprid permit, but Imazamox is scheduled to be sprayed in Willapa Bay/Grays Harbor in the next few weeks on over 3,000 acres unless the Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) grants a new injunction. The Coalition filed an injunction in 2014 to stop the prior spraying on 300 acres and the PCHB denied the motion based on Ecology’s objection.