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Federal judge denies injunction in Fire Island piping plover lawsuit

A two-day-old piping plover runs along a beach

A two-day-old piping plover runs along a beach in the Quonochontaug Conservation Area in Westerly, R.I. Photo Credit: AP / Steven Senne

A federal judge Friday denied Audubon New York's request for a preliminary injunction to block part of a 19-mile flood-protection dune project planned for Fire Island.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Sandra Feuerstein of the Eastern District Court of New York came weeks after the nonprofit group sued, claiming the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' $207 million project would harm endangered piping plovers by destroying key beach habitat.

At issue was a three-mile stretch of dunes planned in public parklands.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service signed off on the project after winning improvements from the Army Corps: more nesting grounds to partly replace those that will be lost, enhanced monitoring, predator controls and other safeguards.

In her 85-page decision, Feuerstein ruled Audubon New York had not presented a case it probably would win, so she did not need to consider if the plan would cause "irreparable" harm to the birds -- one of the standards required for a preliminary injunction.

"Since plaintiff has not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of any of its claims against defendants, it is unnecessary to consider the 'irreparable injury' and 'public interest' prongs of a preliminary injunction motion," the decision states.

Audubon New York and the Army Corps, which had planned to start the dune work this month, had no immediate comment.

The ruling was praised by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)

"This is a sound and common sense decision that will hopefully allow the Fire Island dunes that we fought so hard for to be reconstructed," Schumer said in a statement.

The senator, who repeatedly pressed to advance the project, added: "The dunes are vital to protecting so many South Shore and island homes that are now dangerously exposed to the next storm."

Mastic Beach Mayor Bill Biondi also hailed the decision, calling it "a big win for our village."

Feuerstein last month issued a temporary restraining order suspending work on the Fire Island dunes. That order became moot with her decision Friday.

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