Archive for Hurricane Katrina

Coastal restoration as a climate change adaptation strategy

June 12, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Diversions, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, Restoration Projects, Science

By Meg Sutton, Environmental Defense Fund

Global climate change has induced an increase in global mean sea level with a 3.1 mm/year average rate of increase since 1991[1]. Climate projections indicate a widespread increase of more intense precipitation events, with an associated increased risk of flooding. Similarly, climate scientists also predict an increase in hurricane wind speed and total volume.

The low lying, coastal Mississippi River Delta region is particularly vulnerable to the climate change threats of sea level rise, increased flood risk and more intense hurricanes. The area is additionally plagued by human-induced environmental degradation that has occurred over the past 200-300 years. The region has lost 1,900 square miles of land since the 1930s and is losing the wetland areas that are crucial to the region’s ecosystem function, economy and character.

Predicted land change along the Louisiana coast over the next 50 years if we do nothing more than we have done to date. Red indicates areas likely to be lost, and green indicates areas of new land. This map is based on assumptions about increases in sea level rise, subsidence, and other factors. (Estimate based on less optimistic scenario of future coastal conditions.) Map provided courtesy of the Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

The numerous threats to the region set up a potential dilemma of competing interests. Should resources and attention be focused on immediate restoration or longer term climate change adaptation? Fortunately, no such choice has to be made. Climate change adaptation and coastal restoration do not constitute a zero sum game. Restoration of coastal Louisiana reduces the vulnerability to the major risks posed by climate change and therefore can be seen as a climate change adaptation strategy.

The global rise in mean sea level — termed eustatic sea level rise — is further complicated in the Mississippi River Delta region by subsidence (sinking land). The sum of the two is referred to as relative sea level rise. The Gulf of Mexico has one of the highest rates of subsidence in the nation due to sediment compaction and the extraction of groundwater, oil and natural gas[2]. These encroaching sea levels increase mean water levels in boundary regions, accelerate coastal erosion and alter the salinity levels of sensitive coastal habitat systems. These factors have contributed to the high rate of land loss in the region.

Restoration of the deltaic system can help stabilize shorelines and reduce the associated risks with rising sea levels. Deltas are formed by the constant inflow of sediment from rivers. However, the Mississippi River Delta has been cut off from this natural process through the construction of extensive levee systems for navigation and flood protection. Through planned sediment diversions, the natural deltaic process can be restored and help increase the resiliency of coastal areas. This will combat the effects of both eustatic sea level rise and subsidence.

The projected increase in the intensity of precipitation events due to global climate change will exacerbate flood risk in the Mississippi River Delta region. Research has shown that coastal wetlands can greatly reduce flooding and storm damage. A one-acre area of wetland can store up to one million gallons of water[3], providing a significant buffer between flood waters and populated areas. In addition, wetland vegetation acts as a natural flood barrier by reducing the speed of flood waters. Healthy wetlands therefore have the potential to reduce both the volume and speed of floodwaters that reach surrounding areas. Restoration efforts seek to improve the condition of surviving wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta region as well as strategically reestablish historical wetland areas with sediment diversions. The restoration efforts to augment total healthy wetland area in the region will simultaneously reduce flooding risk associated with climate change.

As highlighted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the coastal Mississippi River Delta region is highly vulnerable to hurricanes and their associated storm surge. Climate change is predicted to increase hurricane wind speed and total precipitation, further amplifying this threat. Coastal wetlands have been shown to reduce both wave energy and wave height when storm surge passes through them[4]. These wetland regions introduce a frictional drag that reduces the intensity of waves, and restoration will therefore help protect surrounding regions from storm surge now and into the future.

The restoration of ecosystem function in the Mississippi River Delta would provide significant benefits for both the short and long-term future of this crucial economic and ecologic zone. The overlapping interests of restoration and long-term climate change adaptation serve to strengthen the case for large-scale immediate restoration of the region.

[1] IPCC, 2007: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M.Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

[2] Needelman, B.A., S. Crooks, C.A. Shumway, J.G. Titus, R.Takacs, and J.E. Hawkes. 2012  Restore-Adapt-Mitigate: Responding to Climate Change Through Coastal Habitat Restoration. B.A. Needelman, J. Benoit, S. Bosak, and C. Lyons (eds.). Restore America’s Estuaries, Washington D.C., pp. 1-63. Published by: Restore America’s Estuaries 2012

[3] Wetlands Protecting Life and Property from Flooding. United States Environmental Protection Agency, May 2006.

[4] Shepard CC, Crain CM, Beck MW (2011). The Protective Role of Coastal Marshes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. PLoS ONE 6(11): e27374. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0027374

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On the first day of hurricane season, a call for coastal restoration

June 1, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Community Resiliency, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, RESTORE Act, Science, Seafood, Wildlife

By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation

Hurricane season starts today! Click this image and LIKE and SHARE it on Facebook if you want to restore the wetlands that protect Louisiana's coast!

Water. Flashlight. Batteries. Canned food. It’s hurricane season. In coastal Louisiana, we’ll keep a close eye on the weather until November — hoping to dodge each swirling white storm that crops up on the radar.

As the world witnessed in 2005 during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Louisiana is dangerously vulnerable to strong storms. One major reason for our vulnerability is the collapse of coastal wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta in southern Louisiana. Since the 1930s, due in large part to manmade causes, we’ve lost about 1,900 square miles of land from the Louisiana coast – it's like losing the state of Delaware off the nation's map! These coastal wetlands play a critical role in protecting communities by helping buffer them from storm surge, wind and waves.

Here in Louisiana, we are still recovering from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which cost nearly 2,000 lives and caused $91 billion in damages. At the same time, we are trying to get ahead of the next storm to prevent another horrific disaster by planning and advocating for coastal protection and restoration. The Louisiana Legislature just unanimously passed the Coastal Master Plan, a comprehensive 50-year plan for restoring our coast and protecting our natural resources. Coastal scientists continue to expand our knowledge and understanding of what is happening to our coast and how best to restore it. Thousands of people — from local school kids to celebrities to international visitors — are learning about the plight of Louisiana's wetlands and getting dirty in marshes planting grasses and trees every year!

Why all the attention? The Mississippi River Delta matters — to all of us. In addition to vital protection from storms, wetlands sustain vital industries like trade and seafood — the delta’s fisheries provide 25% of American seafood. The wetlands also provide wildlife habitat to hundreds of species, including the endangered Kemps Ridley sea turtle and the Piping Plover beach bird. These same wetlands and waterways contribute tens of billions of dollars to our national economy every year and support millions of jobs.

So as we ready ourselves for the 2012 hurricane season, let’s call for restoration — protecting communities and wildlife and sustaining the rich culture of America’s delta. Today, you have a great opportunity to help move restoration from plan to action. Click here to support the RESTORE Act, critical legislation moving through Congress, which will bring BP oil spill penalties back to Gulf Coast states to fund coastal restoration projects like those so badly needed in Louisiana.

We need your voice! Share this post with your friends and family and help us restore the Mississippi River Delta. And LIKE and SHARE this image on Facebook. Doing so will make a difference for hurricane seasons to come.

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Hurricane season: Remembering the past and protecting the future

May 29, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Community Resiliency, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricanes, Meetings/Events

By Audrey Payne, Environmental Defense Fund

To mark the beginning of the 2012 hurricane season on June 1, the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign will launch a social media event to bring awareness to the importance of storm protection and wetland restoration as a line of defense against storm surge.

Track map of all storms of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season. Source: Wikipedia Commons

With another storm season upon us, it’s hard not to think about the possibility of another destructive storm — like Hurricane Katrina or Rita — sweeping across the delta or the Gulf Coast. We should be aware of and prepared for another damaging storm, but it is also important to appreciate the coastline’s ability to provide natural protection from hurricanes. For example, healthy coastal wetlands can provide substantial protection by absorbing storm surge and flooding.

Unfortunately, the wetlands surrounding the Mississippi River Delta are disappearing, and much of what remains is severely degraded — a direct result of manmade measures that have isolated the sediment and fresh water that once built and replenished the rich coastal marshes, swamps and barrier islands.

If and when strong hurricanes come into the gulf, this wetland loss means there is much less protection for coastal communities. We saw how land loss contributed to the damage caused by Katrina and Rita, and it would serve us well to learn from the past and protect our natural storm barriers: coastal wetlands. We must push for wetland protection and restoration in order to protect coastal Louisiana from another horrific disaster.

Please show your support as we work to promote policy and science that will restore and protect Louisiana’s wetlands. “Like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to show your support and to find out more about what we are working on this hurricane season.

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Restoring the Lower 9th Ward: A resilient vision for New Orleans

May 7, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Community Resiliency, Congress, Hurricane Katrina, People, Restoration Projects, RESTORE Act, Videos

This post was originally published on the National Wildlife Federation's Wildlife Promise blog.

By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation’s Coastal Louisiana Organizer in New Orleans

What would you do if, in one day, you lost everything? I’m not just talking about your personal possessions; I’m talking about your entire community — your church, your grocery store, your school. The folks you meet in the video below, Warrenetta Banks and John Taylor, have lived out this scenario every day since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 and have chosen to respond with passion and dedication to recovery — advocating for smart, green urban planning on one side of the levee and a healthy wetland ecosystem on the other side of the levee.

Warrenetta and John are both lifelong residents of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. In the years since the catastrophic flooding, they’ve helped their community recover to be one of the “greenest” in the nation — solar panels, community gardens, and LEED certified homes are typical encounters as you walk down the street. That’s on one side of the levee.

Residents like Warrenetta and John understand all too well that the wetland ecosystem on the other side of the levee is critical to their future and safety. Healthy wetlands serve as a buffer to storm surges and winds and help the levees do their job to protect communities. National Wildlife Federation is one organization working closely with the Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (where Warrenetta and John work) to plan and gain funding for restoration of the 400-acre cypress swamp bordering the community (featured in the video) as well as the entire 58,000 acres wetland ecosystem the swamp is connected to, which once buffered much of the Greater New Orleans area from storms and provided important wildlife habitat.

Without healthy wetlands, coastal communities like the Lower Ninth Ward remain very vulnerable to disasters. Urgent funding is needed for restoration. The RESTORE Act, legislation now making its way through the U.S. Congress, will use a portion of Clean Water Act penalties from the BP disaster to fund projects that will restore Gulf Coast ecosystems, including wetlands that protect communities and provide critical habitat for gulf wildlife. Right now, you can make a difference in the future of the Gulf Coast. Learn more about the RESTORE Act and share your voice!

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NGOs urge federal government to restore coast damaged by Mississippi River Gulf Outlet

March 15, 2012 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Army Corps of Engineers, Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi River Gulf Outlet

(March 7, 2012 — New Orleans) On March 2, the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the November 2009 landmark decision that found the Army Corps liable for catastrophic flooding in the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish during Hurricane Katrina due to the grossly negligent management of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO). In 2009, Judge Stanwood Duval ruled that the dangerous condition of the shipping channel was clearly acknowledged by the Corps for decades, but the Corps chose not to take a course of action to remedy the ongoing destruction and degradation of the protective wetlands. The MRGO impacted over 700,000 acres of coastal wetlands and waterways. These wetlands once buffered the Greater New Orleans area from storm surge.

Views of inundated areas in New Orleans following breaking of the levees surrounding the city as the result of Hurricane Katrina. 11 September 2005. View is of a section of Eastern New Orleans, to the west of Lake Forest Boulevard. I-10 runs horizontally through center of image. MRGO canal is seen to south in distance. Credit: NOAA

This second ruling reaffirms the direct linkage of the MRGO to the deadly destruction of Hurricane Katrina. Urgent restitution for all impacted by Corps negligence and restoration of the MRGO ecosystem is imperative. Still, the federal government is expected to continue to appeal, further delaying resolution.

“Nearly seven years have passed since Hurricane Katrina. It’s high time for the federal government to step-up to the plate by compensating those affected and by funding MRGO restoration,” said Dr. John Lopez of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.

Although the closure of the shipping channel was long-advocated by environmental and community groups, and even though the funneling effect of the MRGO was predicted by storm surge researchers, it took the drowning of entire communities to achieve congressional action for MRGO closure and restoration planning.

Restoration planning is ongoing. Both the Corps’ draft MRGO ecosystem restoration plan and the State of Louisiana’s draft 2012 Coastal Master Plan call for upwards of $5 billion in restoration projects in the area impacted by the channel. The need for funding prevents implementation of this immensely important restoration effort. Settling this case could provide a major source of those funds.

“As an advocate for both the environment and reduction of flood risk, I believe the Court of Appeals decision will push government engineers to look long and hard at how other channels similar to the MRGO along the Gulf Coast increase risk and damage the environment. More importantly, we need to fix them before the next catastrophe,” said Dr.Paul Kemp, Vice President at National Audubon Society and a member of Team Louisiana.

Statement supported by: American Rivers, CAWIC, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Environmental Defense Fund, Global Green-USA, Gulf Restoration Network, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation,, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper, Lower Ninth Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development, MQVN Community Development Corporation, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club – Delta Chapter, Tierra Resources, LLC, and St. Bernard Parish Government.

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Voices of the Delta: Keith Blomstrom

February 14, 2012 | Posted by Kevin Chandler in BP Oil Disaster, Hunting and Fishing, Hurricane Katrina, RESTORE Act, Voices of the Delta

"The Minnesota state bird, the Common Loon, spends two to three years maturing in the gulf. To Minnesotans, this bird represents wilderness, and it also links us to the Mississippi River Delta." - Keith Blomstrom

This is the second post of our Voices of the Delta series.

Name: Keith Blomstrom

Occupation: President of the Minnesota Conservation Federation

Why are the Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast important to Minnesota?
Minnesota is linked to the gulf in many ways. The Mississippi River starts in Minnesota — its headwaters are located in Itasca State Park, near Bemidji, Minn. — so the river itself means a great deal to us. Some of the beneficial sediment that travels to the delta comes from Minnesota, but at the same time, our farms and cities are responsible for pollution traveling downriver as well. As an acknowledgment of our commitment to the river, the state of Minnesota and the Environmental Protection Agency have recently partnered with farmers and others to clean up water draining into the gulf.

Additionally, our waterfowl winter in the gulf — all total, 75 percent of our continent’s waterfowl pass through the region. The Minnesota state bird, the Common Loon, spends two to three years maturing in the gulf. To Minnesotans, this bird represents wilderness, and it also links us to the Mississippi River Delta.

What does the RESTORE Act mean to you personally?
After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I visited a fish camp owned by some friends in Montegut, La., and I saw firsthand the devastation and problems caused by the loss of wetlands. The place we stayed was on 10-foot poles. During the storms, the tidal surge there was 8 feet. Anything that wasn’t higher than that was destroyed. We were 6 miles from the gulf, but the canal was still full of saltwater with bull sharks, stingrays and other saltwater creatures swimming everywhere.

The oil spill further devastated the area, killing the plants that hold together the soil, killing wildlife and hurting the fishing industry. It will take many years for the ecosystem to recover. But with the RESTORE Act, we have the chance to make a down payment on restoration, to help build a better future for the Gulf Coast and for our country.

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New Orleans Restoration Project Will Increase Resiliency, Create Jobs

November 22, 2011 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in Community Resiliency, Hurricane Katrina, Job Creation, Meetings/Events, Restoration Projects

By Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund

Central Wetlands Assimilation Project groundbreaking ceremony (Credit: Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation)

On Nov. 10, the City of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish broke ground on the important and innovative $10 million Central Wetlands Assimilation Project. On hand for the ceremony were New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro, members of the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board and approximately 75 others representing community organizations, environmental non-profits and other interested parties. All agree the project is a critical first step towards restoring the entire Central Wetlands Unit, mitigating historical impacts of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) channel, improving fish and wildlife habitat, and creating new jobs in restoration and ecotourism.

The Central Wetlands Assimilation Project is a vital step to restore impacted wetlands in the Central Wetlands Unit, a 30,000-acre area east of downtown New Orleans, containing open water that was once a thriving cypress forest just over the levee from urban communities like the Lower 9th Ward and Chalmette.

However, in the early 1960s, construction of the MRGO shipping channel negatively impacted and dramatically altered hundreds of thousands of acres of coastal ecosystem surrounding the Greater New Orleans area including the Central Wetlands.  The MRGO inundated the area with saltwater, killing the cypress trees in the Central Wetlands and leaving behind open water. In 2005, the lack of a coastal wetland buffer contributed to catastrophic flooding during Hurricane Katrina, worsening the damage it caused in the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu

The Central Wetlands Assimilation Project will provide fresh water and nutrients needed to reduce salinity and encourage plant growth—by redirecting and reusing treated wastewater and effluent from the East Bank Sewage Treatment Plant into the area—rather than discarding all of it into the Mississippi River. Restoring freshwater flows and taking maximum advantage of the resources available serves as a model for all coastal Louisiana restoration efforts.

The Central Wetlands Assimilation Project is also an important first step to showing that environmental restoration equals economic restoration, creating recreation opportunities, improving habitat and creating new jobs. In fact, restoring the entire Central Wetlands Unit has the potential to create 680 direct and indirect restoration related jobs, according to a study by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

Additional resources:

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Nickelodeon Video Highlights Chalmette Students' Coastal Restoration Efforts

October 28, 2011 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in Community Resiliency, Hurricane Katrina, Meetings/Events, Restoration Projects, Videos

By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation

Nickelodeon's "The Big Help" teamed up with National Wildlife Federation (NWF) for Earth Day 2011 to spotlight outstanding students making a difference in their communities through environmental stewardship. Sure enough, the search for awesome kids ended in St. Bernard Parish, where students in Chalmette High School's Leadership Initiative have planted over 50,000 cypress trees since Hurricane Katrina. The students, who experienced first-hand the massive destruction of Katrina and the BP oil disaster, are very much aware of the importance of a healthy environment and are happy to get dirty and help restore their wetlands, protect their levees and provide wildlife habitat through the planting program.

The stars of Nickelodeon's Victorious were on hand to give the students a thrill and lead a day of filming and fun. Footage highlighting student efforts and explaining the plight of the Louisiana wetlands played throughout Earth Day on Nickelodeon. Nickelodeon also donated $25,000 to St. Bernard Parish Schools to support the Leadership Initiative. Check out photos from the day here.

NWF's Amanda Moore worked with Nickelodeon and St. Bernard Parish Schools on the shoot. "We were so glad to share the efforts of students in St. Bernard with kids across the nation," said Amanda. "Having experienced so much loss and destruction in the last few years, the students have reacted with an eagerness to help their community recover and restore the coast. They have an amazing perspective and are an inspiration."

Watch the video below about the day from our friends at Nickelodeon.

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New Orleans Ranked First in Decade-Long Population Loss Due to Natural Disasters, Not Economic Decline

January 31, 2011 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Community Resiliency, Hurricane Katrina, Job Creation

Guest post by Seyi Fayanju, Environmental Defense Fund

Seyi works on the coastal Louisiana restoration project at Environmental Defense Fund.  He is a contributor to EDF’s Restoration and Resilience blog, in which he writes about the links between hazard mitigation, environmental rehabilitation, and economic recovery in the Mississippi River Delta.

Between 2000 and 2009, New Orleans lost more than a quarter of its residents, outpacing Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and other struggling “Rust Belt” cities in its pace of population loss.  This decline was largely attributable to the twin disasters of 2005: Hurricane Katrina’s landfall, and the catastrophic levee failures that occurred soon after.  While the storm forced the temporary evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people, it was the floods afterwards that kept many New Orleanians from returning to their homes.  The Big Easy has rebounded in a big way since 2005, but the population of Louisiana’s largest city remains well-below its pre-Katrina figure.

New Orleans, Louisiana (credit: NASA)

What will be needed to help New Orleans on the path to demographic recovery?  The answer could lie in wetland rehabilitation and hazard mitigation.  Along with stronger levee protection, New Orleans would benefit from increased investment in complementary forms of flood and storm protection.  The restoration of area wetlands and the elevation of homes and commercial structures would provide additional protection for the residents of New Orleans, and create jobs for workers throughout the Mississippi River Delta.  Implementation of these recommendations could help New Orleans and other communities in coastal Louisiana to flourish in the years to come.

You can read Seyi's in-depth analysis of New Orleans' population loss on EDF's Restoration and Resilience blog.

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Let Your Voice Be Heard: Public Comment Period for MRGO Draft Restoration Plan Is Underway

January 6, 2011 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Army Corps of Engineers, Congress, Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, Restoration Projects

By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation

Update to our previous post: The 60-day public comment period is open for the Army Corps of Engineers' Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) Draft Restoration Plan.  The restoration of the ecosystem along the MRGO will help to protect the City of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish by providing a coastal buffer to storm surge and waves.  In addition, restoration will increase coastal resiliency to subsidence and sea level rise and keep our estuaries healthy and productive.

The public voice is critical for both a strong plan and implementation funding.  The Corps and Congress need to hear from you to ensure a healthy and resilient coastal buffer between the New Orleans area and the Gulf of Mexico.  Through careful review, experts and community leaders in the MRGO Must Go Coalition, a group of 17 environmental and community organizations, have developed recommendations for the Draft Feasibility Report.  Please send in a comment and help protect New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish by visiting their website.

Groundbreaking ceremony of the MRGO

Since its construction, the MRGO has impacted over 600,000 acres of coastal ecosystems surrounding New Orleans and has destroyed over 27,000 acres of wetlands.  In 2005, Hurricane Katrina underscored the gravity of the MRGO impact on wetlands and public safety when storm waves generated in Lake Borgne regenerated in the MRGO channel and destroyed levees while the surge still was rising, wiping out communities along the MRGO.  Now, under direction from Congress, the Army Corps has developed a comprehensive plan to repair coastal damage caused by the channel.

The public comment period is scheduled to end mid-February.

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