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Environmental advocates raise concerns as feds evaluates Wilmington harbor dredging project

Colonel Benjamin Bennett spoke at the open house concerning the project to deepen the Wilmington Harbor.
Grace Vitaglione
Colonel Benjamin Bennett spoke at the open house concerning the project to deepen the Wilmington Harbor.

The North Carolina Ports Authority wants to deepen the Wilmington Harbor — but first, federal agencies have to evaluate the project.

At an open house about the project Tuesday, members of Audubon North Carolina worried that dredging will lead to more erosion — possibly damaging the island habitats of nesting coastal water birds.

Kerri Allen of the North Carolina Coastal Federation said dredging could destroy wetlands that prevent flooding. That’s made much worse by the impacts of climate change.

“The sea level rise projections, as we all know, living here in the Cape Fear area, even sunny day flooding and king tides are posing a great threat,” Allen said.

Allen also says that the sediment in the harbor contains PFAS and industrial contaminants. That’s why dredging or moving that sediment could affect water quality.

The Army Corps of Engineers said it will consider these environmental factors in its evaluation — which will also include mitigation plans.

Corps Biologist Alexander Metz said some possible mitigation efforts could be buying land to preserve it and rerouting the flow of the river.

The Corps will also balance the economic benefits of bringing in larger ships versus the cost it will take to deepen the harbor and mitigate those impacts.

The Corps will submit its final report on the project in 2027 to the Assistant Secretary of the Army Civil Works. From there, Congress will be the final decision maker on whether the project gets funding.

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