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December 13, 2007

Federal suit filed against Corps of Engineers

Federal suit filed against Corps of Engineers

Waterfront property owners along the St. Lucie River have filed suit in federal court against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Plaintiffs claim their property and riparian rights have been violated because of polluted-water discharges from Lake Okeechobee.
 
Organized by the Rivers Coalition Defense Fund and filed in November 2006, the suit seeks $50 million in damages. Similar suits filed against the Corps, which owns and operates the canal system that channels the discharged water, have failed. Those suits, however, hinged upon environmental law, as opposed to constitutional property rights guaranteed under the Fifth Amendment.
 
Kevin Henderson, a civil and environmental engineer and board member of the Rivers Coalition, says sugar farms south of Lake Okeechobee - contained within the 700,000-acre Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) - are managed and maintained in an unsustainable fashion, forcing the Corps to release toxic Okeechobee waters east and west directly into estuaries, with virtually no water traveling south.
 
"We're living with a drainage system that was developed a long time ago and never designed to keep the EAA at a constant water table," he says. "We need additional outlet capacity. What we're operating with right now isn't even safe, let alone environmentally sound."
 
A spokesman for the Corps declined to comment, stating the Corps does not remark on pending litigation.