ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey — The federal government has moved to dismiss a lawsuit brought by New Jersey environmental officials against a research project that blasts the ocean floor with sound waves, mainly because the project is already finished.
The U.S. Justice Department wants a federal judge to dismiss the suit brought by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection against several defendants, including the National Science Foundation.
The project used sound waves to study sediment on the ocean floor dating back 60 million years to see how sea level rise has changed the coastline. Proponents involved in the project, including Rutgers University, the science foundation and the University of Texas, say the research can help coastal communities understand sea level change over millions of years to better protect against storms like Superstorm Sandy. The findings could be used to help make decisions on where to elevate houses, build protective barriers, relocate critical infrastructure or retreat from certain spots.
Environmentalists say this type of research has a history of harming marine life, which can become disoriented or stressed from the noise, disrupting migratory patterns, displacing them and even causing them to strand themselves. It was not immediately clear whether the recently completed testing had harmed any marine life.
In an Aug. 6 court filing, the federal government says the work is already over and there are no plans for additional similar tests.
"The seismic research survey that the state objected to when they brought this suit has ended," Assistant Attorney General John Cruden wrote. "Therefore they simply have no injury, no opportunity for redress, and no standing to sue. And any decisions regarding hypothetical future surveys have not been made. Therefore the state has no injury stemming from such a hypothetical, non-planned survey."
The DEP did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. But opponents say important procedural issues were not dealt with before the testing started on June 1. Cindy Zipf, executive director of the Clean Ocean Action environmental group, which led opposition to the research, called the dismissal motion "an outrageous attempt to hide from the law and duck due process."
"Seismic blasting is not over," she said. "It will be used off the East Coast in the hunt for offshore oil well into the future. New Jersey must have the opportunity to set the record straight against federal agencies that think they are above the law, which may help other states protect their coast and resources, too."
The testing concluded on July 6, after surveying off the coast of Long Beach Island.
A similar but separate lawsuit brought against the research by five fishing groups was dismissed on Aug. 3.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC