The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Chris DeScherer (attorney), Southern Environmental Law Center,
Jim Murphy (attorney), National Wildlife Federation, 802-552-4325.
Nancy Cave, Coastal Conservation League, 843-545-0403.
Ben Gregg, SC Wildlife Federation, 803-256-0670.
Christine Ellis, Waccamaw Riverkeeper, 843-349-4007.

Lawsuit Aimed at Army Corps Leads to Protection of Critical Wetland South of Myrtle Beach


Following a court challenge brought by conservation
groups, the Army Corps of Engineers has reversed its removal of
federal protection for a large wetland near Murrells Inlet, South
Carolina, and brought the wetland under the federal Clean Water Act.

"Despite the vital benefits wetlands provide to communities and
wildlife, many are at risk of being destroyed by development across
the South," said Chris DeScherer, Director of the Coast and Wetlands
Program at the Southern Environmental Law Center. "The Corps must
apply careful review to decisions regarding wetlands or the South will
continue to lose these invaluable natural resources at staggering

U.S. Supreme Court rulings over the past several years created
confusion over which wetlands are protected by the Clean Water Act and
essentially left it to the Corps to decide on a case-by-case basis for
most wetlands and streams. When Spectre, LLC, proposed to fill the
wetland in Horry County, the Corps declared the wetland "isolated" and
therefore not subject to federal protection.

The Southern Environmental Law Center and National Wildlife Federation
filed suit in federal court in 2009 on behalf of the Coastal
Conservation League, National Wildlife Federation, S.C. Wildlife
Federation, and Waccamaw Riverkeeper. An investigation by the
conservation groups indicated that the wetland is connected with the
Waccamaw River and should have been protected.

On November 1, 2010, the Corps filed its revised evaluation of the
wetland in federal district court in Charleston. The Corps' analysis
shows that the wetland is hydrologically connected to a tributary of
the Waccamaw River and that the wetland, along with other nearby
wetlands, provides significant benefits to downstream waters and the
surrounding area, including stormwater filtration, flood storage, and
vital habitat for wildlife.

"This lawsuit has demonstrated that the Corps must be vigilant in
evaluating wetlands and streams before stripping them of federal
protection under the Clean Water Act," said Nancy Cave, office
director of the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League's North
Coast office.

Wetlands improve water quality, buffer storms, and act as freshwater
reservoirs and habitat for fish, shellfish and migratory birds. When
hurricanes batter the coast, wetlands are the first line of defense
for communities. They absorb excess rainwater and filter runoff in
downpours. When drought threatens, wetlands are important natural
reservoirs. These benefits will be increasingly important for South
Carolina as the climate changes and flooding events and storm surges
likely increase in frequency and intensity. The extent of resources
put at risk due to the confusion created by the recent Supreme Court
rulings is staggering: in the continental U.S., about 60 percent of
our stream miles do not flow year round, and approximately 20 percent
of our more than 100 million acres of wetlands are geographically

"This decision shows that if the Corps properly applies sound science
and looks at both the individual and aggregate benefits wetlands
provide, it can protect valuable wetlands in South Carolina and
throughout the Southeast," said Jim Murphy, attorney for the National
Wildlife Federation.

About South Carolina Coastal Conservation League
The Coastal Conservation League is a grassroots non-profit
conservation organization, founded in 1989 to protect the natural
environment of the South Carolina coastal plain and to enhance the
quality of life of our coastal communities. The League works with
individuals, businesses, and government to ensure balanced solutions.

About Southern Environmental Law Center
The Southern Environmental Law Center uses the power of the law to
protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia,
Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama).
Founded in 1986, SELC's staff of 40 attorneys includes experts on air
and energy, water, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation,
and land use. SELC is a non-profit organization and works with
more than 100 partner groups.

About South Carolina Wildlife Federation
The South Carolina Wildlife Federation, SCWF, promotes effective
habitat conservation and respect for outdoor traditions through
statewide leadership, education, advocacy and partnerships. The
Federation was formed in 1931, when a handful of sportsmen
crisscrossed the state to recruit fellow outdoor enthusiasts. In just
a few months, around 2,000 people joined as charter members.

About National Wildlife Federation
National Wildlife Federation is America's conservation organization
inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children's future.

About Waccamaw Riverkeeper
The Waccamaw RIVERKEEPER(r) Program is a program of Winyah Rivers
Foundation. Our mission is to protect, preserve, monitor and
revitalize the health of the lands and waters of the greater Winyah
Bay watershed. We are a grassroots organization, working locally
to educate and advocate for protection of our watershed.