Friday, July 8, 2011

City of Jax Beach to "Renurish" Our Beaches

Another round of beaches “renourishment” will begin in Jacksonville Beach today, Friday July 8, 2011. The last beach “renourishment” project was in 2005. Beach “renourishment” is the process by which sand that has been eroded from the shoreline is being replaced with sand from another source of sand. The Beaches’ shoreline has been eroded due to jetties and dredging of the St. Johns River. The beaches “renourishment” project is expected to replace about 735,000 cubic yards of sand. Sand will be pumped from the bottom of the ocean about eight miles off shore and then the sand will be distributed on the shore. The entire project will cost about 11 million and it is being funded with federal funds (62%), state funds (18%), and Jacksonville City funds (20%).

Work will begin in Jacksonville Beach near 36th Avenue South and it will move north to about one block south of Florida Avenue. Then work will move north towards Neptune Beach and Atlantic Beach from Lemon Street to just south of 19th Street in Atlantic Beach. The entire project is expected to last for at least 50 days, including about a month in Jacksonville Beach and about three weeks through Atlantic Beach. Work will be done 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Portions of the beach where work will be conducted will be temporarily closed. However, areas outside of the work will remain open.

Beachgoers may notice that the sand will be a different color than the sand that was there before the project began. However, according to the City of Jacksonville Beach the replacement sand met criteria set by the state of Florida for Duval County beaches including proper “grain size distribution, shell content, and color.” Also, according to the City of Jacksonville Beach, within a few days or weeks the sun will bleach the sand and the sand will turn into a color that is similar to the color of the sand before it was replaced. The City of Jacksonville Beach has concluded that this beach “renourishment” project will “protect us from future tropical storms, hurricanes, and nor'easters” and that the project is important to preserve the beach, recreation, environmental habitat, and property along the shore.

Although there are alleged benefits to beach “renourishment” there are also some consequences that may occur due to beach “renourishment.” Since the replacement sand will be pumped from the bottom of the ocean it can be expected that the pumping will negatively affect organisms and habitats that are in the area where the sand is being pumped. Also the placement of the pumped sand on the shore may negatively affect organisms and habitats where the replacement sand is being distributed. Therefore while it is important to deal with beach erosion, the process of beach “renourishment” may not be the best option. The negative consequences of beach “renourishment” should be taken into consideration and weighed against the benefits that the beach “renourishment” is expected to bring. However, it seems like beach “renourishment” is the only option being exercised and considered by the government, perhaps citizens should examine other ways that the government can best deal with beach erosion.

-Antionette Vanterpool, Legal Intern

Protecting the Atmosphere for Future Generations through Atmospheric Trust Litigation

Mary C. Wood, an environmental law professor at the University of Oregon argues that the atmosphere is a natural resource that should be protected in trust by the government, making the government trustee of the atmosphere and obligating the government to reduce carbon emissions to protect the atmosphere and combat climate change. This theory is based on the public trust doctrine which is a legal principle that requires the government to protect natural resources that belong to the people, for present and future generations. Under this theory every level of government from federal to state to local governments could be held accountable for protecting the atmosphere as a public trust.

Wood argues that “atmospheric trust litigation” is a way for citizens to bring lawsuits against their governments in order to force governments to meet their obligations to protect the atmosphere. So how does atmospheric trust litigation work? First courts must declare that the atmosphere is in the public trust. Then courts could make a judgment that sets the trust obligations that governments have to comply with. Courts could also order an accounting against governments, which requires governments to measure their carbon footprint and then show courts that they are reducing carbon emissions based on scientific findings. Through this accounting, citizens would be able to see if their governments are really reducing carbon emissions. In addition, if courts find that government officials are not meeting their obligations courts could hold officials in contempt of court or make rulings prohibiting activities that contribute to carbon emissions. In May, 2011, Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit organization based in Oregon filed suit in all 50 states on behalf of children, alleging that government entities violated the public trust doctrine because they failed to limit greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Our Children’s Trust asked courts to find that states have a duty to future generations to protect the atmosphere in trust immediately.

The public trust doctrine has usually been used to protect public access to navigable waterways and beaches. Therefore, getting courts to agree to declare the atmosphere within the public trust may be very difficult because this would require courts to accept an untraditional legal argument. Atmospheric trust litigations are currently being litigated, so the public will have to wait and see whether or not courts will find that the atmosphere should be protected in trust. Perhaps if one court agrees that the atmosphere should be protected in trust then other courts will follow suit, but so far no court has made a decision finding the atmosphere to be a resource held in trust by the people. Our Children’s Trust has upcoming hearings in several states with regard to their requests for courts to declare the atmosphere a public trust. The dates and times of those hearings can be found at

-Antionette Vanterpool, Legal Intern

Selling and Developing Government Land

Last year the Jamaican government announced that it was going to sell 3,000 acres of property in Font Hill. The property is proposed to be used for the development of a large resort hotel. The land has many environmental features from beaches to agricultural lands to a mangrove forest. The land is also the habitat for wildlife ranging from the American alligator to the West Indian Whistling Duck to migratory birds. This sale has been strongly opposed by environmental lobbyists in Jamaica. These lobbyists are concerned about what will happen to the wildlife that are on the property and the destruction of natural resources. The government officials that support the development of Font Hill believe that the development will create jobs and help the economy. Lobbyists argue that the development may help the economy, but at what risk to an area of biodiversity?

Also in Jamaica, the Urban Development Corporation, a government agency, proposed to develop Winnifred Beach and deny the public access to the beach. The Corporation proposed to put cottages and villas on the beach. The public has opposed the development of the beach arguing that it will degrade the environment of the beach by negatively impacting species habitats and negatively impacting the coral reefs. The public has also argued that the beach has been used by the public for years and therefore the beach should remain open for public access.

Meanwhile, according to Dennis Kravitz, an AP business writer, in the United States in May, 2011, the Obama administration asked Congress to sell off 12,000 government owned properties claiming that they were under underutilized or were no longer needed. The Obama Administration says that taking the properties out of the government’s hands would save the government about $15 billion over a three year period. The United States government owns about 1 million pieces of property and pays about $20 billion a year to operate and maintain the properties. These talks to sell government owned properties came at a time when the government was trying to cut the deficit. The government proposed that the money that would be saved by selling the properties would be used 60% to pay the deficit and 40% to cover the costs to run government facilities. Selling these properties may allow for private entities to purchase and develop the properties causing environmental harms. There are environmental regulations that new developments may be subject to but should the government sell lands that have the potential for development causing environmental harms or does the economic benefit that the government will receive outweigh the potential environmental harms?

Should governments allow government owned lands to be privatized? It seems like every time the sale of government land or privatization of land has come up it almost always is proposed for an economic benefit. In Jamaica government owned property is being sold to develop a hotel to create jobs and a beach is being privatized to bring tourists to stay at cottages and villas on the beach. While in the United States, government land is being proposed to be sold to help pay off the government’s debt. While government economic interests are important I can’t help but wonder how privatization of these lands will impact the environment. Are these governments really taking into consideration the economic environmental benefits that these lands provide now?

-Antionette Vanterpool, Legal Intern

Should the U.S. take action to protect Bluefin Tuna, Or should it be an International Effort?

The population of bluefin tuna has declined over the years due to overfishing and more recently the western Atlantic bluefin tuna population will be affected by the Gulf Oil spill. The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition in May 2010 for protection of bluefin tuna as an endangered species, but in May 2011 the Obama Administration declined to give bluefin tuna endangered species protection. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that they would place the species on a watch list as they wait to see how the species is managed through international agreements and initiatives. Larry Robinson, NOAA’s assistant secretary stated that bluefin tuna did not need endangered species protection because the species was “not likely to become extinct.”

Other environmental organizations believe that bluefin tuna should be protected through an international effort instead of the U.S. unilaterally listing the species as an endangered species. However an international attempt last year to protect bluefin tuna at the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species was blocked. Also, according to Lee Crockett, the director of federal fisheries policy for the Pew Environment Group it has been suggested that international protection of the species has not been effective because fishermen still illegally catch more than the legal quota.

It is understandable that the Center for Biological Diversity would want the bluefin tuna to be given endangered species protection, but it seems as if not given the species endangered species protection was not an error because based on the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. §1531, in determining whether a species is endangered the Secretary of Interior or Commerce shall give consideration to species that are in “danger of extinction.” Therefore, since bluefin tuna was not in danger of extinction at the time that the Center for Biological Diversity filed its petition, listing the bluefin tuna as an endangered species was not required. Therefore, if environmental organizations seek to protect the bluefin tuna they should either keep monitoring the species to see if it becomes in danger of extinction or push the U.S. government to join in any international agreement that seeks to protect the bluefin tuna. It is difficult in international agreements to get all of the countries to strictly enforce the agreement but just because an international agreement is not as strong or effective as environmental organizations would like them to be does not mean that the U.S. government has to take over regulation in an area that they have found does not need its unilateral protection or that is not required by its laws. However, it can become frustrating if all attempts to protect a species is merely for show on paper and no real protection is being done. Perhaps in a few years the issue of bluefin tuna receiving endangered species protection will be revisited.

-Antionette Vanterpool, Legal Intern