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National Digest: Judge orders dredging in Georgia to stop over threat to turtles

Judge halts dredging over threat to turtles

A federal judge ordered an immediate halt on Thursday to plans to dredge a shipping channel on the Georgia coast, citing a threat to sea turtles nesting on nearby beaches.

The injunction by U.S. District Judge R. Stan Baker delivered an initial setback to the Army Corps of Engineers. The agency is trying to end a policy that for 30 years limited to the winter months the dredging of accumulated sand and mud in harbors from the Carolinas to Florida.

The seasonal limits were enacted to protect sea turtles from being killed and maimed by the vacuum-like suction pumps of hopper dredges, and conservationists credit that policy with helping threatened and endangered turtle species begin to rebound.

Giant loggerhead sea turtles, protected as a federally threatened species, nest during the spring and summer months on beaches from North Carolina to Florida. Smaller numbers of endangered green and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles lay eggs in the region, as well.

The Corps now says the seasonal dredging limits are no longer necessary, citing a report last year by federal government scientists who found sea turtles could endure about 150 deaths per year from dredging. The agency hired a contractor to start dredging the shipping channel in Brunswick on May 28 while loggerhead sea turtles were nesting on nearby beaches.

The conservation group One Hundred Miles filed suit in federal court over the proposed shift to year-round dredging. Citing a threat of immediate and irreparable harm, the group asked the judge to stop the ­20-day project while the lawsuit moves ahead.

The judge ordered a hold for the Brunswick dredging project until December unless the Corps can use a different type of dredge that poses far less risk to sea turtles.

Judge drops murder charge in stillbirth

A California judge has dismissed a murder case against a woman who delivered a stillborn baby after consuming methamphetamine, saying prosecutors failed to provide evidence that she took drugs knowing that it could kill her child.

Kings County Superior Court Judge Robert Shane Burns delivered his decision in court Thursday, said Dana Sussman, deputy executive director for the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which is providing legal counsel for the woman, Chelsea Becker.

The dismissal, however, falls short of what Becker’s advocates had wanted from the court: A clear ruling that California’s homicide law does not apply to pregnant women. California’s former top prosecutor, Xavier Becerra, who is now secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, backed that position.

In September 2019, Becker gave birth to a stillborn child she had named Zachariah Joseph Campos. The coroner’s report listed toxic levels of meth as the cause of death, but an attorney for Becker said the pathologist never reviewed her medical record, which included three infections that could have caused the stillbirth.

In California, lawmakers amended the state’s murder statute to include a fetus after the California Supreme Court in 1970 overturned the conviction of a man who had beaten a pregnant woman, causing her to lose the baby.

1 dead in apparent smuggling attempt

One person was killed and eight were injured Thursday in an apparent migrant smuggling attempt off San Diego’s tony La Jolla coast, authorities said.

Lifeguards rescued 10 people in what the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department called “rough water conditions,” including eight who were hospitalized. Some of the migrants wore life vests.

One person who was found underwater was pronounced dead on the beach. The fire department said it did not know how many people were aboard the boat.

Lifeguards were alerted that people were in the water about 5:30 a.m., minutes before sunrise. The boat was in waters just offshore from Wipeout Beach.

The fire department said survivors were turned over to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.