Citing a need for more legal briefs, a federal judge has postponed a hearing on the Rivers Coalition Defense Fund's federal lawsuit seeking to stop polluted discharges into the St. Lucie estuary.
The hearing now will be scheduled in Washington on a date after Oct. 27, when parties will submit three suggested dates, after first filing briefs on several legal questions specified by the court.
Rivers Coalition Chair Leon Abood said the postponement was disappointing but not a major setback for the eventual outcome. "The new arguments will simply clarify points raised by both sides. This may actually be a good sign that the judge is keenly interested in the case."
Abood added: "We're fully committed to do whatever it takes. And it should be noted that over the three years the suit has been pending, our estuary's problems with the pollution from the lake have finally gotten major attention."
The Defense Fund lawsuit contends that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took riparian rights from waterfront property owners by discharging hundreds of billions of gallons of polluted fresh water through man made canals from Lake Okeechobee. The case targets the heavy-discharge years of 2003-2005. The releases killed oyster beds, marine grasses and other life and brought in up to 70,000 tons of muck per year.
Defending the discharges, the Corps claims that since the releases also were made in some earlier years, the statute of limitations bars the claim. The government also claims that a priority for "navigational servitude" should block the suit. The Defense Fund points out, however, that the discharges in question are unrelated to navigation, their function being to provide drainage from inland.