Archive for Mississippi River Gulf Outlet
By Samantha Carter, Restore the Mississippi River Delta, National Wildlife Federation
Wind. Rain. Record-setting lows. None of that stopped community members and conservation groups from welcoming members of a federal restoration council to a potential project site in the Lower Ninth Ward last Thursday morning. Members of the MRGO Must Go Coalition met with Executive Director Justin Ehrenwerth and Environmental Compliance Director John Ettinger of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council at the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle platform in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. Joined by representatives from the US Army Corps of Engineers and the City of New Orleans Office of Coastal and Environmental Affairs, we had a robust discussion about the future of restoration in the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) ecosystem area.
The platform at the end of Caffin Avenue overlooks a 400 acre “ghost” swamp, a remnant of a dense freshwater cypress tupelo forest that existed in the city boundaries until roughly 50 years ago. Saltwater intrusion, caused by the construction of the MRGO in the 1960s, killed the cypress swamp in the Lower 9th Ward and destroyed tens of thousands of acres of wetlands that once protected the Greater New Orleans area. The MRGO channel and the loss of the surrounding wetlands are attributed to the catastrophic flooding that occurred in the Lower Ninth Ward and surrounding communities during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle provides a unique opportunity for highly visible coastal restoration work. Only five miles from the French Quarter, the platform already attracts Orleans Parish locals and tourists alike who can learn about the history of the swamp and see an example of the coastal land loss problems that extend throughout southern Louisiana. If the project is funded and constructed, reintroducing Mississippi River sediment and freshwater into the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle could return the conditions in the area to a place where cypress swamp can once again survive. In addition to restoring ecology and increasing quality of life for residents, restoration work in this location would allow the public easy access to see the State’s Coastal Master Plan in action and potentially RESTORE Act restoration funds at work.
Discussions with the MRGO coalition and the RESTORE Council staff focused on this possibility and the process by which restoration projects are going to be chosen. The frigid weather kept the site visit short, but conversations continued in the warmth of the Greater Little Zion Baptist Church just a few minutes away. The RESTORE Council stressed the importance of coordination between different funding streams and leveraging completed work, such the programmatic EIS already done by the US Army Corps of Engineers for the MRGO ecosystem restoration area. MRGO Must Go coalition members shared their passion and vision for restoration and why they are engaged in the effort to see the MRGO ecosystem restored. There are already plans to revisit the platform together on a sunnier day and take a flight over the MRGO ecosystem.
Interested in visiting the platform and learning more? Check out http://www.restorethebayou.org/.
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 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
Media Advisory for Friday, November 15, 2013
Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, email@example.com
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, firstname.lastname@example.org
Erin Greeson, National Audubon Society, 503.913-8978, email@example.com
Arthur Johnson, The Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development, 504.421.9643, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle Signage Unveiling and Press Conference
New educational, interactive signs teach visitors about need for coastal restoration
Each year, thousands of people visit the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle viewing platform in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward. New signage to be unveiled Nov. 15 will help these visitors and residents alike understand what they are seeing when they look out over a cypress ghost swamp in the backyard of a community devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Visitors will learn why the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle is important to the community, what has happened to the area since construction of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) and how the Triangle serves as a portal to the larger land loss issues facing Louisiana’s coast. This signage project is a product of The Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED), Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.
Press Conference Details:
WHAT: Press conference, signage unveiling and photo and interview opportunities.
WHEN: Friday, November 15, 10:00 a.m. CT
WHERE: Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle Viewing Platform
Florida Ave at Caffin Ave
Lower 9th Ward
New Orleans, LA 70117
Garret Graves, Chair, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana
Charles Allen, Director, Office of Coastal and Environmental Affairs, City of New Orleans
James Austin Gray II, Councilmember, New Orleans City Council
Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson, Councilmember-at-Large, New Orleans City Council (Invited)
Arthur Johnson, Executive Director, The Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development
Amanda Moore, Greater New Orleans Program Manager, National Wildlife Federation
More information about the signs:
While at the viewing platform, visitors will have numerous opportunities to interact with the signs and the natural area around them. They can scan a QR code with their smartphones and watch videos about Bayou Bienvenue and other coastal restoration projects on the accompanying website. Visitors can use their phones to sign an action alert or text “BAYOU” to donate to the CSED’s coastal outreach program, call to listen to locals and coastal experts further discuss the coastal crisis facing Louisiana, sign up for volunteer opportunities with local organizations, as well as sign an electronic guestbook via Instagram.
WHO WE ARE: The Restore the Mississippi River Delta coalition is working to protect people, wildlife and jobs by reconnecting the river with its wetlands. As our region faces the crisis of threatening land loss, we offer science-based solutions through a comprehensive approach to restoration. Comprised of conservation, policy, science and outreach experts from Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, we are located in Houma, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; and around the United States. See more at www.mississippiriverdelta.org.No Comments
Basics of the Basin research symposium discusses past, present and future of the Pontchartrain BasinNovember 6, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Mardi Gras Pass, Meetings/Events, Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, Science
By Shannon Hood and Estelle S. Robichaux, Environmental Defense Fund
On October 24-25, 2013, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF) hosted its 11th Basics of the Basin research symposium. Scientists and researchers from academia, non-profit organizations, private consulting groups and federal and state agencies gathered at the University of New Orleans (UNO) on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain to discuss the past, present and future issues of the Pontchartrain Basin. LPBF has hosted these biennial symposiums since 1992, providing an opportunity for students and established researchers alike to share and discuss the most up-to-date research on the restoration and management of Louisiana’s Pontchartrain Basin.
After opening remarks by Dr. John Lopez, executive director of LPBF, the plenary continued with comments and presentations from Phil Turnipseed of the U.S. Geological Survey; Dr. Ioannis Georgiou, Director of the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Sciences at UNO; and Dr. Chip Groat, President and CEO of The Water Institute of the Gulf, among others. The conference was grouped into seven general session topics, including hydrodynamic modeling, water quality, storm surge protection, river diversions, wetland restoration, the Central Wetlands Unit and fisheries. Because of the diversity of environmental concerns within the Pontchartrain Basin, broad, interdisciplinary research is essential to effective system-wide restoration and management.
Understanding the present condition of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin requires a look into the history of the lake itself. Dr. Oliver Houck, professor at the Tulane University Law School, provided the storied account of the history of Lake Pontchartrain during his keynote speech. He spoke of the lake’s days as a hot spot for recreation, as well as its decline during the years when the lake was dredged for the clam shells that lined the bottom. This dredging caused a rapid decline in the health and suitability of this lake for wildlife habitat and for recreation. A few brave souls recognized the trauma that the lake was enduring and took on the task of halting the dredging to allow the lake to begin to heal. Through years of dedication, lawsuits and creative thinking, the dredging was successfully stopped, and the healing process began.
Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation’s original research was well represented at the conference, with 14 presentations in six different sessions. Eva Hillman presented LBPF’s research into the salinity levels found within wetland soils in the Central Wetlands Unit (CWU), just west of New Orleans. Construction of the nearby Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) in 1968 allowed salt water to easily enter these previously freshwater wetlands and lead to severe deterioration of the CWU wetlands. Although the MRGO has been closed since 2009, much of the area still remains highly degraded. LPBF scientists are monitoring soil salinity throughout the CWU to inform restoration efforts, specifically re-vegetation projects.
Research conducted by LPBF scientists on Mardi Gras Pass, a new and evolving distributary of the Mississippi River, was also on display. Dr. Theryn Henkel presented preliminary research on where the fresh water and sediment from Mardi Gras Pass is going once it enters the receiving basin. Results from this study indicate that the deposition of sediment happens well before the influence of fresh water on salinity levels in the receiving basin is no longer observed, and that sediment travels further into the northern areas of the basin than it does to the south. Andreas Moshogianis presented the preliminary findings of ongoing biological assessments in Mardi Gras Pass, most notably that a range of both fresh- and saltwater fishes have been caught during these assessments, often in the same net. LPBF’s research on Mardi Gras Pass is important because it has implications for future restoration efforts throughout coastal Louisiana, as scientists and citizens work to reconnect the Mississippi River with its delta.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
Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation, 504-442-2702
John Lopez, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, 504-421-7348
For Immediate Release:
(September 26, 2012—New Orleans) The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed its March decision on Army Corps liability for catastrophic flood damage related to the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) during Hurricane Katrina, giving the Army Corps immunity under the discretionary-function exception of the Federal Tort Claims Act. Still, the Court acknowledged the MRGO “greatly aggravated the storm’s effects on the city” and the Corps “abused its discretion.”
“MRGO operation followed a multi-decadal pattern of failed policy and inadequate execution, which blithely ignored the egregious wetland loss and ominous threat the MRGO posed to St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans,” said Dr. John Lopez, executive director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. “Due to the Corps’ failure to correct the issue, the MRGO destroyed communities and cost lives.”
Today, the MRGO damage remains unmitigated. Over 600,000 acres of coastal habitat were impacted by the MRGO, including tens of thousands of acres of protective wetlands that surround the Greater New Orleans area. Despite a call to action by Congress in 2006, an Army Corps plan for environmental restoration along the MRGO is still incomplete and facing a recommendation of “no further action” by the Corps due to a policy dispute over who will pay for the restoration projects.
“The stakes are too high for this to end here. The government must do what is right and fix the damage caused by the MRGO before the next catastrophe,” said Amanda Moore, greater New Orleans program manager for National Wildlife Federation.
This statement is supported by National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Gulf Restoration Network, Sierra Club, Levees.org, American Rivers and Global Green.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