Deepwater channel dredging exempted from House coral protections bill
After delays, Jacksonville dredging begins.

The legislation's meant to prevent damage to fragile habitats.

Trying to mitigate the damage from near-constant dredging along Florida’s coast, a House subcommittee passed a bill requiring an independent analysis of activity on the natural habitat.

“(HB 979) is brought forth because we in the state of Florida have a major problem with regard to permitting, in the effects of dredging,” Highland Beach Republican Rep. Peggy Gossett-Seidman said to the House Water Quality, Supply and Treatment Subcommittee. “Currently there (are) no checks and balances, no transparency in place for a contractor dredging offshore to have his permit issued to anyone else other than him.

“There are many, many facets of government, and private sectors (that) demand a third party be involved in permitting.”

She pointed out the example of a person buying a house wouldn’t want the seller to do the inspection.

“We need to have a third party looking at the dredging operation and its environmental analysis,” Gossett-Seidman said. “Furthermore, after the Port of Miami incident which destroyed 560,000 coral nearly 20 years ago, numerous environmental and government entities suggested a separate operation for dredging.”

The bill would also require advance notice to nearby municipalities. 

“Florida boasts 825 miles of coastline which are home to ‘more than 30 plants and animals considered rare within the state that inhabit the beach and adjacent habitats,’ and millions of tourists visit the state each year to enjoy Florida’s beautiful beaches,” according to the House staff analysis

“Recognizing the importance of Florida’s beaches, the Legislature created several programs to protect them and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) administers those programs.”

DEP’s Beaches, Inlets and Ports Program reviews and processes applications for navigational dredging of deepwater ports through the Florida Environmental Resource Permit Program (ERP).

Wellington Democratic Rep. Katherine Waldron submitted a friendly amendment, which was later adopted, exempting the bill from applying to “existing ports with existing channels that have deepwater maintenance going on and are currently permitted or maintained by the U.S. (Army) Corps of Engineers.”

The exemption helps the ports to keep those channels free, open and well-maintained, she said, so operations at those locations can continue unhalted.

Florida’s port officials generally allied themselves against related legislation in the Senate, expressing confusion as to the point of the bill and stating there’s a process already in place to address conflicts of interest and notice.

The bill moves on to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

Wes Wolfe

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who's worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at [email protected] and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook:


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