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Media Contact:

Brendan Gibbons, Environmental Integrity Project, 202-263-4458 (m), bgibbons@environmentalintegrity.org

GALVESTON, Texas – A coalition of Gulf Coast and environmental groups are urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide an additional 60 days for public comment on plans to dredge the Matagorda Bay shipping channel through an EPA Superfund site. The project is intended to increase oil exports which would devastate the fishing community, increase toxic mercury pollution and harm public health.

The letter also asks for an extra public meeting, with Spanish and Vietnamese interpretation. It also asks for accountability from the Army Corps for not ejecting an attendee at the meeting earlier this month who told Spanish-speaking participants that “this is Texas; this is not Mexico.”

“The Army Corps hasn’t done nearly enough to get the word out about this dredging plan, which would have a devastating impact on the bay and the livelihoods of people who depend on it,” said Diane Wilson, the San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper and a former shrimper. “We need this extension to ensure that people have enough time to submit detailed comments before it’s too late.” 

The comment period for a Supplemental Environmental Impacts Statement (SEIS) comes after the Corps withdrew their approval to dredge the Matagorda Bay in December. The Corps decision came in response to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of Gulf and environmental groups after new information came to light about the anticipated use of the shipping channel and the risks of mercury contamination, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and significant impacts on the lives and livelihoods of people working in the fishing industry.

Background: In 2019, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed to deepen and widen the Matagorda Bay shipping channel to allow for “Suezmax”-size oil tankers, which are as long as football fields and can carry about one million barrels of oil, to pass into the Gulf of Mexico. 

The project would also include dredging through an EPA Superfund cleanup site located in a part of Lavaca Bay contaminated with mercury by a now closed Alcoa aluminum smelting plant. Since 1988, this portion of the bay has been closed to fishing because of high levels of mercury in finfish and crabs. Matagorda Bay and Port Lavaca, across the bay from Point Comfort, historically had a thriving fishing, shrimping, and oystering industry that has sharply declined in part due to industrial pollution. Despite the setbacks, the fishing community is fighting hard to survive. The dredging project would increase greenhouse gas emissions, harm public health, and dump 20 million cubic yards of dredging spoils in areas that are important aquatic and fisheries habitats.

The Army Corps drafted an initial Environmental Impact Statement in 2019 for the dredging of the channel, but that did not capture the scale of the current proposal or include an examination of the most recent data on mercury contamination in the sediment.

Earthjustice, Environmental Integrity Project, and allies sent letters to the Army Corps in October and December 2021 and February 2022 requesting additional study of the possible impacts of the dredging project in a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. In the letters, expert reports supported the need for a re-evaluation of the risks from mercury contamination, including sediment sampling data which found mercury levels six times higher than EPA’s goal for the Superfund Site in the dredging area. 

In May 2022, Earthjustice represented San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper, Earthworks, Environmental Integrity Project, Turtle Island Restoration Project, and Texas Campaign for the Environment in filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over its proposal to dredge the Matagorda Bay shipping channel. 

The project to dredge the Matagorda Bay shipping channel has faced strong community-led opposition since its proposal. Max Midstream, the company which hoped to profit from the dredging project to allow larger oil tankers to reach the company’s proposed oil export terminal, has said it will pay for 25% of the project, according to the Port of Calhoun County. The company has since had significant financial troubles and is facing legal challenges from business partners and vendors. In September, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it would delay seeking bids on the dredging project.