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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

Controversial Army Corps of Engineers decision to allow yearlong dredging struck down in court

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Hopper dredge

The U.S. District Court for Eastern North Carolina ruled late last month that the Army Corps of Engineers violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Administrative Procedure Act in removing seasonal limitations on hopper dredging projects, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center.

For many years, dredging limitations were in place to protect sea turtles and sturgeons from being maimed or killed by hopper dredging. These animals are protected federally, and the Corps historically limited hopper dredging projects to the winter months, when the wildlife is less abundant in North Carolina waters.

WHQRpreviously reported on the Corps’ decision to remove those limitations in 2021 and allow yearlong dredging, leading to protests from wildlife and environmental advocates.

The decision led to at least four sea turtle deaths by late August of 2021.

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed suit on behalf of the conservation groups Cape Fear River Watch, North Carolina Wildlife Federation, and Defenders of Wildlife in response.

The Corps had argued the shift would increase efficiency — improving navigability and safety for commercial vessels while reducing costs for taxpayers.

But the Court held that the Corps failed to analyze potential impacts on wildlife, especially in regards to endangered species, and failed to consider the effects of removing the dredging windows, according to the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Grace Vitaglione is a multimedia journalist, recently graduated from American University. I’m attracted to issues of inequity and my reporting has spanned racial disparities in healthcare, immigration detention and college culture. In the past, I’ve investigated ICE detainee deaths at the Investigative Reporting Workshop, worked on an award-winning investigative podcast and produced student-led video stories.