SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A $62 million project to dredge Puerto Rico’s biggest and most important seaport began Wednesday amid fierce opposition from environmentalists and a pending lawsuit.

Crews with California-based Curtin Maritime will remove nearly 3 million cubic yards (76 million cubic feet) of marine floor to open the San Juan Bay to larger vessels including tankers that will serve a new liquid natural gas terminal on Puerto Rico’s north coast.

The dredged material will be deposited into the Atlantic Ocean 2 nautical miles (4 kilometers) north of the U.S. territory in a move approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, officials said.

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said the project overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to give a $400 million boost to the local economy, adding that the dredging will be completed by October.

He dismissed concerns by environmentalists who have said the project would endanger wildlife and humans. “This already was authorized at all federal levels, including any environmental impact it might have,” he said.

In August 2022, the Arizona-based nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. government, saying the project threatens to destroy corals and seagrass beds and suck up turtles and other marine life.

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