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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Environmental groups want a federal court to order more protection for coral reefs during the planned expansion of Port Everglades in Broward County.

The groups filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday in South Florida, contending work by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violates the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act and will lead to repeating damage to coral habitat that occurred with a recently completed dredging project at PortMiami.

In a news release Wednesday, the Army Corps said it anticipates additional consultation about environmental issues with the National Marine Fisheries Service. Also, the Port Everglades project has yet to be authorized or funded by Congress.

“We continue our design efforts to provide the best science available to inform decision-makers and prepare for project implementation upon authorization,” Army Corps spokeswoman Susan Jackson said in the release.

The groups behind the Port Everglades lawsuit are Miami Waterkeeper, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association.

The lawsuit alleges the Army Corps “inadequately considered the risks to corals” in approving the project and that the environmental analyses used by the Army Corps and the National Marine Fisheries Service failed to use the “best available science.”

The groups also allege the Army Corps evaluated the Port Everglades proposal using the same methods as in the PortMiami work.

“For the PortMiami project, the Corps had assumed there would be minimal impacts to coral, but instead fine-grained sediment from the project injured and smothered tens of thousands of coral colonies and over 250 acres of the reefs,” the groups said in a news release accompanying the lawsuit. “The damage spread out over half a mile from the dredging.”

A similar lawsuit was filed in 2014 in an attempt to protect reefs from the PortMiami dig, which deepened the channel by more than 50 feet in preparation for bigger ships now coming through an expanded Panama Canal.

That lawsuit, which is still alive, seeks to have the court declare that the Army Corps violated the Endangered Species Act.

When notice of the Port Everglades lawsuit was filed in June, the Army Corps said in a release it carried out the Miami harbor project in accordance with a biological opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service. It also said it relocated threatened staghorn coral away from the Miami project area and will conduct “a definitive survey of the affected areas this summer” with other agencies to determine if additional improvements are needed.

“Critics of the Miami deepening have made numerous statements that overstate the extent and degree of the effects of the project,” the Army Corps said.

Ellen Kennedy, a spokeswoman for Port Everglades, said the new project is still in its pre-construction, engineering and design phase, which includes having to follow Broward County’s environmental protection rules.

“They’ve already retained an independent environmental consultant, and they’re working with the environmental regulatory agencies to design and plan the project so that any errors made with any other dredging project at other seaports are not repeated at Everglades,” Kennedy said. “The environment is an important component of the project.”

The Port Everglades project, tentatively set to begin in late 2018 and take four years to complete, is expected to deepen the entrance channel from 42 feet to 48 feet. Money for the work is planned to come from the port, the federal government and the state.

The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.

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