Gov. Chris Christie's administration is seeking federal court action to halt research that involves blasting the ocean floor off New Jersey with sound waves.
The state attorney general's office filed a complaint Friday in U.S. District Court arguing the federally funded seismic research project that began this week will harm fish and marine animals, as well as commercial fisheries and beachgoers just as the summer tourism season gears up.
The National Science Foundation-funded research, being performed by Rutgers University, is aimed at helping the world's coastal regions better protect themselves from disasters like Superstorm Sandy by mapping ocean sediment deposits dating back 60 million years to study how the shoreline has advanced and retreated in response to rising sea levels.
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But state officials say the project, which involves repeated underwater blasts of compressed air that can generate sounds louder than a jet engine, violates federal laws protecting marine animals. They are calling for officials to complete an environmental impact study to gauge the impact before any project proceeds.
"We are not going to give up this fight," Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said in a statement. "It is extremely disappointing that the federal government is moving ahead with this misguided project despite widespread objection from all quarters and without regard to the negative impacts on New Jersey."
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. Proponents, like Rutgers professor Greg Mountain, the project leader, say the concerns are unfounded.
Last summer, New Jersey officials tried in federal court to block the project with an injunction, but lost. Christie promised renewed opposition last week, saying that while he can't guarantee a win, "I can guarantee you a fight."
The National Science Foundation referred a request for comment on the complaint to the Justice Department. A spokesman there said the department was reviewing the complaint and declined to comment further.
Rutgers is not a party to the state's lawsuit, but school spokesman Carl Blesch said in a statement that the project "is already well underway, and is aimed at increasing our understanding of sea level changes which are critically important to all coastal states, and especially to New Jersey."