NWF Lawsuit Impacts Tennessee Wetland

Corp of Engineers Changes Its Tune On Cumberland Plateau

Friday, May 6, 2005

As a result of a lawsuit filed by the National Wildlife Federation and other groups, the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has reversed its call not to regulate an important wetland area in Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau region.

"This is a victory as these wetlands will receive federal Clean Water Act safeguards against destruction," says Jim Murphy, Water Resources Counsel for the National Wildlife Federation. "The downside of this victory is that it took a lawsuit in order for the Corps to do the right thing and protect these wetlands for future generations."

The National Wildlife Federation has joined Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Sierra Club, Tennessee Environmental Council and the Tennessee Clean Water Network in filing the lawsuit. The suit asserts that the wetlands, situated on the Highland Rim of the Nashville basin, required Clean Water Act safeguards which the Corps and the Environmental Protection Agency had failed to assert.

In a letter to the Airport proposing to fill the wetlands, the Corps stated it will assert jurisdiction over the wetland because the Corps has concluded that a hydrological connection exists between waters leaving the wetland and the Falling Water River, a navigable water.

These valuable wetlands are located to the east of the Upper Cumberland Regional Airport (UCRA) and feed into the Falling Water River in the Cumberland Plateau region. The wetlands flow into waters above Burgess Falls, an important state natural area. These wetlands are abundant with wildlife, such as barking tree frogs, ducks, geese, and the endangered gray bat, and support diverse vegetation. UCRA is planning an expansion that would cover the wetlands with pavement.

At issue in the case is what Murphy says is a pattern by the Corps of "improper interpretations" of a 2001 Supreme Court decision that denies Clean Water Act safeguards to many waters.

The lawsuit was filed after a dye trace and other information indicated that waters from the wetland are connected to the Falling Water River and, therefore, should be covered under the Clean Water Act. The Nashville District of the Corps claimed that the wetlands are "isolated" and don't require a Clean Water Act permit. But an expert analysis conducted for the environmental groups clearly shows that water from the wetlands feed the Falling Water River. The Corps, after receiving this information and after a lawsuit on the matter was filed, decided to regulate the wetland area under the Clean Water Act.

The lawsuit had been part of the National Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club's broader campaigns to ensure that Clean Water Act protection is maintained for the nations' streams and wetlands. These organizations are committed to making sure the Corps properly applies the law when it comes to protecting the waters that wildlife depends on.

The National Wildlife Federation is America's conservation organization protecting wildlife for our children's future. www.nwf.org.


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