Archive for Hurricane Katrina
Guest post by Lynda Woolard (New Orleans)
This post is the first in a two-part guest series.
"The simple truth is, if we fail to restore our coast, we fail to protect our city from future storms."
I was recently blessed with an opportunity to go along for a boat trip to see the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) and the Central Wetlands of southeast Louisiana with a delegation from the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign. I was initially a little anxious, because despite having lived in New Orleans for 20 years, this was new territory for me. Although these wetlands are less than a 30-minute drive from my home, I had never been out to see them.
I felt some relief upon reaching the marina, as others on the boat were residents of St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes and had made this trip many times for fishing, work and recreation. My fears were replaced by awe as we traveled into the wetlands. The waterways and surrounding marshes were stunning and peaceful and seemed a world away from the city. Yet amazingly, we could still see the New Orleans skyline throughout much of our trip. While New Orleanians identify ourselves as living in a port city, we don’t often think of ourselves as living in a coastal city. But we do!
Interspersed with the beautiful natural scenery of southeast Louisiana were stark reminders of how precarious our proximity to the coast is. We saw an entire fishing village that had been wiped away by storm and remains a ghost town. We saw the memorial and sculpture at Shell Beach, placed in honor of the 163 St. Bernard residents who lost their lives during Hurricane Katrina. We saw the further peril we have put ourselves in by decades of carving up these coastal marshes and failing to protect them adequately.
The creation of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet navigation channel, which is a straight shot from the Gulf of Mexico to the Port of New Orleans, has put our entire region at greater risk from hurricanes. It’s been called the “Hurricane Highway” because it led a surge of seawater in a direct path to cause catastrophic flooding of St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward during Hurricane Katrina. However, its damage is more far reaching than that. The construction of the MRGO has made our levees and surge barriers, which were not engineered to withstand open water, more vulnerable. Our hurricane protection systems, both manmade and natural, require protection by freshwater wetlands and marsh.
Because of the MRGO, our wetlands are disappearing at a more rapid pace. The channel itself has eroded as well, from a 650-foot wide waterway to 2,000 feet wide. While traveling down the MRGO, we could see cypress tree “tombstones” marking the spots where vibrant wetlands once flourished. Our charter boat captain told stories about how more islands vanish with each passing year. The introduction of salt water into the marshes has been disastrous.
The good news is that steps are being taken to restore the Mississippi River Delta. There is a Coastal Master Plan in place to rebuild the wetlands, barrier islands and marshes that serve as our city’s first lines of defense against hurricanes and to preserve the ecosystems that support our state’s way of life. Massive and impressive projects, like a surge barrier and a rock dam, have already been started that will lessen further damage from the MRGO.
But this good news comes with some alarm bells. Progress needs to come at a much faster rate, because our wetlands are disappearing too quickly. While traveling to the Golden Triangle Marsh, it was made very clear that St. Tammany Parish citizens need to be made aware that if we allow wetland deterioration to continue to the point of losing the New Orleans East Land Bridge, the waters of the Gulf will be on their doorstep. The environmental scientists and engineers working on restoration have done the research – they know the solutions and it is imperative, regardless of what we have allowed to happen in the past, that we listen to them now… and act.
The residents of Orleans Parish need to see this as an incredibly urgent issue, because this is as big of a safety issue as having secure, functioning levees. There is a direct correlation between protecting our city – as well as our culture – and restoring our wetlands. The simple truth is, if we fail to restore our coast, we fail to protect our city from future storms. I believe the Gulf Coast, Louisiana’s wetlands and the city of New Orleans are treasures worth saving. If we have the will, we have the power to make it happen.
New Orleans, LA
July 26, 2014
By Eden Davis and Philip Russo, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition
There are many reasons to advocate for coastal restoration in Louisiana, but few arguments are as compelling as preserving the cultural legacy of a state known for its food, music and festivities. That’s why we as part of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition are doing our best to celebrate tirelessly the cultural apex that is Mardi Gras in New Orleans. We, along with the rest of the community, line the sidewalks and neutral grounds of the boulevards where we share black cauldrons of jambalaya and generous portions of king cake. We gather to see and hear the spectacle that is the dance troupes, marching bands and ornate floats, but most importantly, we do it to feel the pulse of our community and to indulge in its vitality. We may have not always vocalized it as such, but it’s why we’ve always done it, going back all the way to the founding of the oldest and most venerable Krewe of Rex that rolls Mardi Gras morning.
The Krewe of Rex has held more parades than any other organization. They are the origin of many Mardi Gras traditions, including the official Carnival colors of purple, green and gold. Founded in 1872, Rex sought to attract new businesses and residents to a New Orleans that was struggling to recover from the lingering effects of the Civil War, when divisions and isolation prevailed. The founders knew the creation of a grand Mardi Gras celebration would lend itself to healing those wounds and restoring the unity that was such a prominent feature of this silted landscape. Most would agree that their efforts were an unbelievable success, but history has a way of repeating itself.
After Hurricane Katrina, this same story played out again as New Orleans struggled to rebuild not only its levees and homes, but its image. Today’s worries are not of the aftermath of a civil war, but of decades of tremendous land loss and increasingly devastating hurricanes. To ameliorate this, the state adopted a Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. If enacted thoroughly, barrier islands, sediment diversions and marsh creation projects will, along with the efforts of Mardi Gras Krewes, not only sustain our coast, but also the traditions that makes it worth inhabiting. So we are doing our part, reveling when we can, sleeping when we can and asking everyone to join us in support of Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan and coastal restoration. Happy Mardi Gras, y’all!No Comments
Media Advisory for Feb. 20: “Bayou Sundance” Documentary to Premiere in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth WardFebruary 14, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Community Resiliency, Hurricane Katrina, Media Resources, Meetings/Events
Media Advisory for Thursday, February 20, 2014
Contact: Arthur Johnson, The Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development, 504.421.9643, firstname.lastname@example.org
“Bayou Sundance” Documentary to Premiere in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward
Provocative film details history of Bayou Bienvenue through eyes of community elders and youth
The Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle is a degraded bald cypress swamp just north of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. Over the past 50 years, human activity has caused the swamp and surrounding ecosystem to erode, increasing the city’s vulnerability to storms and contributing to catastrophic damage during Hurricane Katrina.
Through the eyes of community elders and youth, “Bayou Sundance” documents the history of the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle, including the decline of nearby wetlands, resulting impacts and the area’s movement toward rebirth. This powerful story captures the importance of urban wetlands, natural storm protection for coastal cities and serves as a historical environmental justice case study.
You are invited to join us for the premiere of “Bayou Sundance” and to learn more about the future of Bayou Bienvenue and the importance of coastal restoration to both the city of New Orleans and the state. Light dinner will be served.
This film is a product of The Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development with support from Environmental Defense Fund and National Wildlife Federation.
Film Screening and Panel Details:
WHAT: Film screening and Q&A panel with filmmakers and producers
WHEN: Thursday, February 20, 6-7:30 p.m. CT
WHERE: All Soul’s Community Center
5500 St. Claude Avenue
Lower Ninth Ward
New Orleans, LA 70117
WHO: Arthur Johnson: Executive Director, The Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development and Producer of "Bayou Sundance"
Happy Johnson: Teacher, Author and Co-Director of "Bayou Sundance"
Amanda Moore: Greater New Orleans Program Manager, National Wildlife Federation
By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation
Last Tuesday, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority authorized the state attorney general to file suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in an effort to get the federal government to pick up 100 percent of the expense for the federal plan for ecosystem restoration of damage caused by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO). Since 2008, there has been an ongoing dispute between the state and the Corps involving interpretation of Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) of 2007 legislation, in which Congress directed the Corps to develop a plan for restoration of the MRGO ecosystem at full federal expense.
The $3 billion plan, mandated for completion by May of 2008, was finally completed in 2012. Yet, there is still disagreement over what cost share Congress intended, leaving this critical federal restoration effort at a standstill. The state contends that construction is a 100 percent federal expense, while the Corps contends that the typical cost share on restoration projects, 65 percent federal and 35 percent state, applies. This billion dollar question will now be determined by a judge.
The MRGO Must Go Coalition, a group of 17 conservation and neighborhood organizations working since 2006 to see the MRGO closed and the ecosystem restored, has researched this cost share issue for several years. We believe that Congress intended for the MRGO projects under WRDA to be at 100 percent federal cost for construction, responding to the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish during Katrina and the devastating role the MRGO played in this event.
Given the extent and urgency of the restoration needs, however, we call on the state of Louisiana, the Corps and potentially other federal agencies to work together to identify all available funding sources and ensure restoration moves forward in a timely manner. All parties involved should be present to work, first and foremost, to ensure timely implementation of comprehensive MRGO ecosystem restoration, as mandated by Congress. We are painfully aware that, every day, the MRGO ecosystem further deteriorates and communities remain at risk.
We welcome this opportunity for the federal court to resolve the cost share dispute. But no matter how the ruling comes down, the bigger question remains: Where will the funds come from to pay for the $3 billion in restoration projects outlined in the MRGO ecosystem restoration plan? Billions of dollars will have to be appropriated by Congress. It is our job, as stakeholders in the resiliency and safety of the Greater New Orleans Area and as citizens who care about justice being served for the communities and ecosystem torn apart by the MRGO, to ensure that our leaders in Congress clearly understand the importance of this restoration effort and that they find the will to get it done. Learn more and take action at www.MRGOmustGO.org.No Comments
By Amanda Moore (National Wildlife Federation) and Elizabeth Skree (Environmental Defense Fund)
Excitement filled the air last Friday as community members, government officials, students and staff from local and national conservation organizations gathered on the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle viewing platform in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward to celebrate the unveiling of new educational, interactive signs. These signs help interpret an important story for visitors as they look out over the open water and ghostly remains of a former healthy cypress swamp. At this powerful site, in the backyard of a community less than five miles from the French Quarter that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, visitors will learn about efforts to restore the Bayou Bienvenue ecosystem as well as the broader, critical need for coastal restoration. The signs were a project of The Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development and the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign.
In addition to the four National Park Service-grade signs, a new website, www.restorethebayou.org, was also created to accompany the signs. On the site, visitors can learn more about the history of Bayou Bienvenue; read about the vision for restoration of the wetland triangle as well as broader Louisiana coastal restoration; learn about community and environmental organizations working to restore the wetlands; watch videos in the multimedia gallery; sign the virtual guestbook by taking a photo using Instagram and adding the hashtag #restorethebayou; and take action by signing a petition to decision-makers, asking them to prioritize MRGO-area restoration projects – like the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle.
The dozens of people in attendance heard from Garret Graves, Chair of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, who proclaimed the importance of the platform and signs when he said, “This is such an important teaching tool for us…it’s a microcosm of what is happening on a huge scale in coastal Louisiana.”
Other speakers included Charles Allen, Director of the City of New Orleans’ Office of Coastal and Environmental Affairs; Arthur Johnson, Executive Director of the Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development; and Amanda Moore, Greater New Orleans Program Manager for the National Wildlife Federation, speaking on behalf of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition.
Get involved! Check out Restore the Mississippi River Delta’s Facebook album of photos from the unveiling event, and visit www.restorethebayou.org to learn more about the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle and coastal restoration efforts.No Comments
By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation
This week marks the anniversaries of Hurricanes Katrina and Isaac. As we take time to remember and commemorate, we must also look to the future and commit to preparing for the next storm and protecting our communities.
Even eight years after Katrina, it’s hard to forget the storms. Recovery and rebuilding remain an everyday reality in coastal Louisiana. Levees and home elevation are some of the more immediate ways to protect ourselves, but these measures work best when part of a multiple lines of defense strategy that includes restoration of our natural storm protection along the coast.
For example, wetlands serve as a buffer for levees, reducing wave energy and the chance of over-topping, thereby reducing the chance that levees will fail. But the marshes, ridges and barrier islands that reduce waves and storm surge are disappearing at an alarming rate – we lose one football field of wetlands every hour in Louisiana.
That statistic stings the most when storms are brewing in the Gulf. Our communities need the protection of a healthy and resilient coast, and getting there will take the support of all who care about the future of our region.
Yesterday, coincidentally on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Isaac, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council approved its Initial Comprehensive Plan for restoring the Gulf Coast’s ecosystem and economy after the 2010 Gulf oil disaster. The next crucial step will be for the Council to select and implement sustainable restoration projects that will protect our communities and restore our ecosystems. The Council should work with Louisiana to prioritize restoration projects set forth in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan.
Find out how you can get involved and help restore our coast!No Comments
By Happy Johnson, Amanda Moore and Elizabeth Skree
Our Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign works to reconnect the Mississippi River to its delta to protect people, wildlife and jobs. At our core, we are the “Power of We”: a coalition of five national and local non-governmental organizations — the National Audubon Society, Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation — working together to save a national treasure: the Mississippi River Delta.
The Mississippi River Delta is losing an area of land the size of one football field every hour. Yes, you read that right. Turning the tide on wetland loss, which totals over 1,900 square miles since the 1930s, is no small feat. To take on this task, we turn to the Power of We.
Whether it’s by supporting our nation’s fisheries, vital wildlife habitat, trade routes or energy production, the Mississippi River Delta is important to the entire country. Here in the delta and across the nation, citizens are learning more and more about the crisis in the delta and taking action to help restore the area. Locally, our campaign works to engage area residents throughout their neighborhoods. Together, we rally. Together, we hold press conferences. We release reports. We host public forums that empower citizens to speak directly to their legislators, state officials and federal agencies about moving restoration forward. We harness the Power of We to make change.
Community Conversations on Coastal Restoration
This year we organized a series of community conversations to enhance and increase coastal competency in Louisiana urban areas. Those gatherings provided an informal outlet to openly discuss the comprehensive challenges and opportunities as a result of staggering wetland loss. In particular, people were interested in how they can become advocates and participate in the emerging job market created by coastal restoration investment.
MRGO must go
The Power of We shines in one major delta project: restoring tens of thousands of acres of protective wetlands just southeast of New Orleans destroyed by a federal shipping channel, the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (also known as the “MRGO” or “Mister Go”). Since Hurricane Katrina, we’ve worked hand-in-hand with local landowners, local government, academia, local neighborhood associations and national environmental organizations to advocate for closure of the shipping channel (which happened in 2009) and for a strong restoration plan for the area. We worked closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in planning, and in the last few years alone, we’ve generated over 75,000 comments to the agency calling for urgent and careful ecosystem restoration along the MRGO. These comments poured in from across the nation, and we now have a $2.9 billion recommended plan for restoration by the Army Corps’ Chief of Engineers.
BP oil disaster
We harnessed the Power of We to pass landmark legislation after the BP oil disaster. The Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign has been working since the spill to ensure that the Clean Water Act fines BP and other responsible parties will pay as a result of the spill are returned to the Gulf Coast to be used for restoration. For this to happen, Congress needed to pass legislation ensuring the money was sent to the gulf states — that bill was the RESTORE Act. A little over two years after the spill had started, Congress passed the RESTORE Act and the President signed it into law. This historic bipartisan legislation came to be in part because of the many letters sent to Congress by people all across the country. Our campaign helped generate over 160,000 letters to Congress asking them to make the RESTORE Act a priority.
Holding BP accountable
But even though the RESTORE Act is now law, our work is not done. It’s been over two years since the gulf oil disaster started, and BP has still not paid a penny in Clean Water Act fines. BP has been stalling the process and is actively trying to walk away from its obligations to clean up the gulf. We can't let that happen. The Power of We can help make things right for the environment and communities of the gulf. Please sign our petition to BP and tell them to stop stalling, stop litigating and make the gulf whole. It’s the right thing to do.
What else can you do?
Like the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign on Facebook! By liking our page, you can be the first to receive updates and action opportunities for the delta.
Follow us on Twitter! @RestoreDelta is Twitter's best resource for Mississippi River Delta news, action items and project updates.
Subscribe to Delta Dispatches! Delta Dispatches is the Web's foremost blog on the policies and science behind Mississippi River Delta restoration.No Comments
By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation
On September 6, restoration along the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) passed another important milestone with completion of the final public comment period for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ planning process. It’s a milestone worth honoring, because almost 49,000 people commented on the plan and the need to prioritize restoration of the area. These comments were collected through nonprofit organizations affiliated with the MRGO Must Go Coalition, and since last year, over 75,000 people have shared their voice of support for the Coalition’s recommendations for MRGO ecosystem restoration during the public comment process. That is, by far, a record for the Corps of Engineers New Orleans District and goes to show how important this restoration effort is for the Greater New Orleans area.
“The corps needs to listen to the will of the people and address the ecosystem damaged by the MRGO. It’s time for the corps to step up to their responsibility and move on this work,” said John Koeferl, member of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association in the Lower Ninth Ward.
Despite this loud demand for urgent and comprehensive restoration, the Corps of Engineers is considering a recommendation of no further action on the MRGO ecosystem restoration report, due to a dispute over who will pay for the projects. A formal decision is still being made on the recommendation by the Chief of Engineers and is expected this week.
Of course, the need for restoration transcends a policy dispute. The MRGO report, which is more than four years beyond its congressional deadline, contains the corps’ plan to restore a portion of more than 600,000 acres of coastal wetlands and waterways impacted by the MRGO shipping channel. The MRGO has been directly linked to intensifying the destruction of Hurricane Katrina by destroying the wetlands that once buffered the Greater New Orleans area from storm surge.
In addition to the Coalition’s recommendation that the Corps of Engineers move forward on plan implementation, other major recommendations were offered to the corps, including prioritizing the 19 projects listed in the corps’ report that are also addressed in Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan, as well as expeditiously moving forward the Violet Freshwater Diversion. The majority of marsh creation, marsh nourishment and swamp creation features depend on river reintroduction, and the Violet Diversion project will allow for salinity control, sediment delivery to the Central Wetlands area, and better adaptation to sea level rise.
To learn more about the MRGO Must Go Coalition and our recommendations, please visit www.MRGOmustGO.org.No Comments
Seven years ago today, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the coastlines of Louisiana and Mississippi, ripping a path of destruction and shattering the lives of countless coastal residents. Around the world, images of flooding and destruction were burned into the eyes of billions of people as they watched one the costliest, deadliest disasters in American history unfold before them.
Today, seven years have passed, and as we speak, Hurricane Isaac is hovering over the coast. As Katrina continues to affect Louisiana residents in very real ways, countless others continue their work helping those who have suffered.
Where does the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign fit into the equation? Consider our campaign's tagline: "reconnecting the river to its delta to protect people, wildlife and jobs."
The key word here is "protect."
There are thousands of reasons why we should restore Louisiana's coastal wetlands. They provide the natural resources on which the state's economy thrives. They hold some of the world's most popular game fish and waterfowl. They offer stopover and nesting sites for hundreds of millions of birds.
But they also offer protection.
By absorbing storm surge and acting as horizontal levees, wetlands are a key line of defense against hurricanes. As wetlands disappear, so do the natural defenses for millions of coastal residents, hundreds of billions of dollars in oil and gas infrastructure, and our nation's most important navigation system.
Louisiana's communities are the most vital part of this equation — they are the backbone of the region's culture and economy. With every acre of wetlands that disappears, coastal residents are an acre closer to disaster. For evidence, we look back at Hurricane Katrina and the disaster that unfolded in the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO).
MRGO is a channel dug by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950s and 1960s as a shorter shipping route from the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans. It was supposed to save time and money in shipping and navigation, but it turned out to be expensive and underused. In 2006, every ship passing through the channel cost state taxpayers $20,000. What's more, it destroyed 27,000 acres of vital wetlands and impacted over 600,000 acres of coastal habitat that protects the Greater New Orleans area.
When Hurricane Katrina struck, storm surge from the MRGO breached levees and floodwalls in St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans, flooding homes throughout the areas. The MRGO channel actually acted as a funnel, amplifying storm surge by 20 to 40 percent, resulting in catastrophic flooding in the historic Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans.
Because of the destructive role MRGO played in the Katrina disaster, the U.S. Congress ordered the corps to close the channel in 2006. Earlier this year, a federal court upheld a previous ruling that names the Army Corps of Engineers responsible for negligence in its mismanagement of the MRGO.
Yet despite its closure, MRGO isn't gone yet. Though the channel is closed to navigation, the ecosystem continues to deteriorate and still needs restoration of critical landscape features that help buffer storm surge and waves.
In 2008, Congress gave the corps a six month deadline to develop a comprehensive closure plan that includes wetlands restoration. Four years later, no plan is complete, and restoration has yet to begin.
The Corps of Engineers is now considering further delaying restoration because of a cost-share dispute with the state of Louisiana. Their current restoration plan also does not include plans for the Violet diversion, which would deliver sustaining fresh water and a small amount of sediment to the Central Wetlands and Biloxi Marshes east of New Orleans. The Violet diversion is critical for the long-term viability of any wetland restoration in the area.
Louisiana needs a plan that mirrors the unprecedented scale of damage done to these coastal habitats and storm buffers. This plan should have been put in place years ago. Further delay on implementation is unacceptable.
The Corps of Engineers is currently accepting comments on its MRGO restoration plan, and Louisiana needs your help. By submitting your own comments to the corps, you can be an additional voice for the communities impacted by Hurricane Katrina and MRGO.
Nothing can undo the damage that was done, but by restoring the area around the MRGO, we can restore wildlife and add one more line of defense for the people of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish. With another hurricane striking on this 7th anniversary of Katrina, it's the right thing to do.No Comments
By Elizabeth Skree, Communications Manager, Environmental Defense Fund
Hurricane Katrina made landfall in coastal Louisiana on August 25, 2012. The storm was one of the most-damaging hurricanes on record, taking nearly 2,000 lives and causing over $80 billion in damage. A nation watched in horror as the city of New Orleans was destroyed, residents were stranded and chaos ensued. No one will ever forget what happened that day, and every year as the anniversary approaches, we are reminded of the power of Mother Nature.
We are also reminded of the need for increased storm protection to prevent a similar disaster. Louisiana has over three million acres of coastal wetlands. These wetlands provide natural storm protection by buffering storm surge and reducing inland flooding from hurricanes. Unfortunately, Louisiana is also losing its wetlands at an alarming rate: Every hour, a football field’s worth of wetlands disappears. As this land goes, so does natural storm protection, wildlife habitat, hunting and fishing grounds and a host of other benefits.
But all is not lost.
We have the opportunity to rebuild Louisiana’s wetlands, increase protection from future storms and turn the tide on coastal land loss.
This week, the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign will be remembering what happened seven years ago as well as looking forward to what can be done to provide a safer and sustainable future for Louisiana’s people and wildlife. “Like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to find out more about what can be done to restore Louisiana’s coast and protect us from another natural disaster.