Portersville Bay Oyster Company holds private and state-owned aquaculture easements for cage-raised and bottom oysters. Portersville claims the heavy machinery used by 4H Construction to complete the Marsh Island Restoration Project is creating more than normal sediment and silt and the project is causing the larvae and mature oysters to become contaminated and smothered by the extra silt and sediment.
Click here to read Lagniappe’s story Lawsuit claims state project is killing oysters in Portersville Bay dated September 29, 2016. The story features our client, Troy Cornelius, owner of Portersville Bay Oyster Company in Coden, Alabama.
In January 2016, Department of Conservation awarded 4H Construction out of Mississippi a contract to complete the Marsh Island Restoration Project. The project was intended to rehabilitate and restore the salt marshes destroyed by past hurricanes and affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The state decided to do this by constructing a semi-permeable segment breakwater barrier to project the shoreline. The Marsh Island Restoration Project requires the construction company use heavy machinery to remove sediment from the salt marshes, which, in turn, creates more than normal sediment and silt, which is then carried by the tides and the currents. The larvae and oysters become contaminated and smothered by the extra silt and sediment, which has decimated the young oyster population by Portersville Bay Oyster Company and other oyster farmers in the bay.
The extra sediment and silt began to affect the oyster beds as early as May 2016. Prior to the Marsh Island Restoration Project, the Portersville oyster beds had a mortality of 3-5% and now the affected oyster beds have 40-50% mortality rate, which is continuing to grow as the work continues on the berm. The oysters being raised on the bottom have all been lost.
Portersville Bay Oyster Company alleges the Alabama Department of Conservation and 4H Construction has not implemented the proper safeguards to prevent the movement of dredged sediments and has failed to limit or has created turbidity that exceed acceptable levels. “I’ve been making a living on this river for 30 years and for someone to sit behind a desk and tell me how things work down here is unbelievable, pumping all of this silt and sediment is killing my oysters,” said Troy Cornelius, owner of Portersville Bay Oyster Company.
During the bidding phase, the Alabama Department of Conservation and contractors were aware creation of the breakwater marsh could create the excess silt and pollution to the oyster beds. “The State of Alabama is using a portion of the settlement money from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to rebuild the salt marshes but, at the same time, have embarked on a project that will destroy the oysters and the livelihood of local oyster farmers like our client,” said attorney Steve Martino of Taylor Martino, PC, which represents Portersville Bay Oyster Company.
“We are hopeful that this will get the state’s attention and prevent further damage to the state’s burgeoning oyster industry,” said attorney Brad Kittrell of Taylor Martino, PC, which represents Portersville Bay Oyster Company.
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