Archive for Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO)
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?
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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
This is the fourth post in our "The Next 50 Years" Coastal Master Plan series. Check back as we continue diving into the master plan and what it means for the people and environment of the Mississippi River Delta.
By Alisha A. Renfro, Ph.D., Staff Scientist, National Wildlife Federation
To formulate Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan, coastal authorities evaluated nearly 250 restoration projects that had been proposed in previous parish- and state-level restoration plans. This number was then narrowed down by setting a realistically achievable budget, modeling for future environmental conditions and understanding how the implementation of individual projects could help sustain or build land over the next 50 years. Projects included in the Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Comprehensive Study were among those considered for inclusion in the master plan, and many of these projects – or similar versions of them – were included in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan. By incorporating these projects in the long-term vision of restoration for coastal Louisiana, these projects will be better integrated with others in the master plan. Additionally, inclusion of these LCA projects shows the state’s commitment to their construction and implementation.
The LCA Program was authorized through the 2007 Water Resources Development Act and includes 15 near-term critical restoration projects. As part of the LCA Program, the state of Louisiana and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers work together to plan and implement these 15 projects. To date, construction has not begun on any of these projects, and as they near the construction phase, the lack of federal funding in the immediate future threatens to delays them indefinitely. That is, until Congress passed the RESTORE Act in June. Signed into law just last week, the RESTORE Act will ensure that 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines BP and other responsible parties will pay as a result of the 2010 gulf oil spill are dedicated to environmental restoration in the gulf states. In Louisiana, this money will be used to help fund the restoration projects outlined in the master plan.
Of the 15 LCA projects, nine were included in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan. But in many cases, the project selected and described in the master plan is a modified version of the original LCA project. This is a result of the analysis conducted in the planning process that indicated that modifications to the project would increase the land it built or maintained. However, it should be noted that the projects described in the master plan are still conceptual, as their exact size and location will be determined through further planning and design. Below is a list of the LCA projects and a brief description of the corresponding project included in the master plan.
The extensive analysis that went into formulating the master plan indicates that the capacity of several of the LCA sediment diversions may need to be scaled up in order to maximize the amount of land they can build and sustain. By including so many LCA projects in the plan, coastal authorities reaffirmed the importance of these critical projects to restoring the coastal Louisiana landscape. Moving away from smaller restoration projects toward larger ecosystem-scale projects will help restore the natural hydrology and mimic the processes that built the Mississippi River Delta, thus creating a more sustainable coastline for the people who call the region home.No Comments
(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.
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, Levees.org, 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.No Comments
By Happy Johnson, National Wildlife Federation
On September 9, life-long community residents and civic leaders from New Orleans' Historic Lower 9th Ward took a boat tour of the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Surge Barrier (IHNC), to see the structure up close and engage in discussions with local non-profit representatives about the critical importance of hurricane protection and ecosystem restoration.
The tour was sponsored by the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED), Lake Pontchatrain Basin Foundation, Gulf Restoration Network and the National Wildlife Federation. Other highlights of the tour included the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, the Bayou Bienvenue flood gate at the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shoreline protection projects and the Central Wetlands. The coastal ecosystems surrounding the aforementioned flood protection structures are vital to community protection.
Our observations and discussions with community members were guided by one key question: How do we restore our wetlands and protect our communities?
Check out the video below to learn more about the tour.
Wetland Scientists, St. Bernard Parish Landowners, and 27,000 Americans Weigh In on MRGO RestorationMarch 12, 2011 | Posted by David J. Ringer (Audubon) in Army Corps of Engineers, Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), Restoration Projects
By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation
The MRGO Must Go Coalition partnered with leading scientists and prominent landowners in St. Bernard Parish to submit detailed recommendations to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for review and incorporation into its final plan to restore massive ecosystem damage caused by the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet shipping channel. The recommendations were based on two prior reports released by the Coalition and reviewed over several months by a group of coastal scientists with expertise in the MRGO study area. In addition, approximately 27,000 restoration-minded citizens from across the country submitted public comments to the Corps supporting the Coalition's recommendations.
Key recommendations from the MRGO Must Go Coalition include:
- Use the existing Violet canal corridor for the new Violet Diversion;
- Develop a baseline and then a comprehensive restoration plan for the Central Wetlands;
- Restore regional oyster barrier reefs along the east and north sides of the Biloxi Marsh;
- Utilize external scientific input to finalize and implement the plan;
- Use natural gas as a clean and efficient energy source;
- Include a new channel constriction and additional bankline restoration of the MRGO channel;
The recommendations can be viewed in their entirety here.
“The Corps’ draft plan marks a long-awaited step toward protecting communities along the MRGO and moving forward on crucial restoration projects for Orleans and St. Bernard Parishes,” said Dr. John Lopez, Acting Director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. “The MRGO Must Go Coalition is pleased to partner with residents and landowners of St. Bernard Parish as well as coastal experts in the academic community for these important comments. Now, we look to the Corps to consider and incorporate our recommendations, which strengthen the draft plan considerably by offering implementable suggestions that will achieve better protection for our communities and a sustainable, healthy ecosystem.”
The MRGO Must Go Coalition, a group of 17 environmental and community organizations, served as a resource for the public comment period by providing insight and recommendations for the Draft Feasibility Report. The Coalition pulls together the voice of the community, independent scientists, and policy experts in an effort to move the best restoration plan forward and protect the Greater New Orleans area. Visit www.MRGOmustGO.org to for important updates as the draft plan moves forward.No Comments
By Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation
The third and final public hearing on the draft plan to restore the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) ecosystem by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took place on Tuesday evening (Feb. 8) in New Orleans. About 100 people attended to hear more about the plan and voice their recommendations to the Corps. Previous meetings were held in Waveland, Ms. and Chalmette, La.
“These public hearings are a crucial part of the Corps’ planning process, and the MRGO Must Go Coalition is thrilled that so many members of conservation groups and people from around the affected communities have turned out to make their voices heard,” said Amanda Moore, coordinator of the MRGO Must Go Coalition.
While some of the meeting’s comments focused on specific aspects of the plan, others were aimed at driving home the fundamental principles of restoration. As Chris Macaluso, sportsmen’s outreach coordinator for the Louisiana Wildlife Federation, pointed out in his comments: “The marsh wouldn’t be here without the river. We need to reconnect the river to the wetlands to restore them.”
Other speakers included St. Bernard Resident Catherine Serpas, who supported using the existing canal as the location for the Violet diversion, and St. Bernard Parish landowner Jimmy Delery, who resides in New Orleans, and called for the restoration plan to be considered as part of the parish’s storm protection.
The official comment period for the MRGO ecosystem restoration draft plan ends Monday February 14. The MRGO Must Go Coalition, a group of 17 environmental and community organizations, has been working with local communities and coastal scientists to critique the draft plan. View the Coalition’s recommendations and submit your comments online at www.MRGOmustGO.org.1 Comment
Influential Sportsman Chris Nook Speaks About Importance of Louisiana Wetlands Restoration at MRGO Public MeetingJanuary 28, 2011 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Army Corps of Engineers, Birds, Meetings/Events, Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), Restoration Projects, Wildlife
By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation
The second of three public hearings on the Army Corps of Engineers’ MRGO ecosystem restoration draft plan was held Tuesday evening (Jan. 25) in Waveland, Mississippi. Approximately 100 people turned out for the chance to learn more about the restoration plan and to share comments.
In addition to Mississippi public officials and residents – as well as a sizeable contingency of Louisiana residents – sportsmen from Montana, Ohio, and Oklahoma made the journey to Waveland to speak about the importance of MRGO ecosystem restoration to wildlife and sportsmen throughout the nation.
Chris Nook, the CEO of HuntDucks.com and prostaff director at Hard Core Decoys, flew in from Ohio to testify about the importance of restoring the wetlands around the infamous MRGO. “Historically, the coastal marshes of this region have provided crucial wintering habitat for waterfowl that are produced in the Nations Prairie Pothole Region and Great Lakes states," said Nook. "Sadly, Ducks Unlimited has said that about 3 million fewer ducks spend their winters along the Gulf Coast because of habitat loss. And, a big part of that habitat loss has taken place right here in the area this plan aims to restore.”
The final public hearing for the MRGO draft plan is scheduled for February 3rd in New Orleans and the official comment period ends February 14th. View the Coalition’s recommendations and submit your comments online at www.MRGOmustGO.org.2 Comments