MRGO closure coalition releases new reportMay 4th, 2010 | By Frank McCormack | Category: News
About a month before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is scheduled to release its draft ecosystem restoration plan for habitat destroyed by the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, the MRGO Must Go Coalition released a report April 27 that names eight priority projects and lays out a rigorous implementation timeline.
The report, titled “Mister Go Isn’t Gone Yet,” has as its linchpin an expanded Violet freshwater diversion and calls for all eight recommended projects to be completed by 2014.
“We have attention at the federal level and we have momentum,” said Paul Kemp, a wetlands expert that co-founded the MRGO Must Go Coalition in 2006.
The MRGO Must Go Coalition, now made up of about 17 local and national organizations, sprung out of a 2006 study that described the role of the MRGO in coastal land loss and Hurricane Katrina-related flooding in Southeast Louisiana.
Partially as a result of that study, Congress deauthorized the MRGO in 2007 and ordered the Corps to close the channel to marine traffic and formulate a restoration plan for the surrounding ecosystem. The Corps is scheduled to complete that plan by late May.
The MRGO Must Go Coalition report serves both to recommend certain restoration projects and to encourage both state and federal leaders to identify a funding source to make the projects a reality.
The first and most critical project, according to the report, is reintroducing freshwater to the marsh along the MRGO through the Violet freshwater diversion. “The Violet Diversion has the potential to help build and sustain wetlands in the Central Wetlands Unit, Biloxi Marshes and along Lake Borgne,” it reads in part. “Construction of the Violet Diversion must be a top priority, because other key projects in the MRGO study area depend on its performance.”
In the past months, the Corps has hosted public meetings in both St. Bernard and Orleans Parishes to discuss the Violet diversion. Corps officials have listed several options for diversions in the area, but a new, larger diversion has been the highlight.
And it’s the Violet diversion – specifically a newly constructed diversion running through Meraux – that has ignited fierce public opposition.
“The local people have consistently said no new cuts,” said Gayle Buckley, wife of Judge Robert Buckley, who attended the meeting last week in New Orleans. “Yes, we want wetlands restoration, but not at the cost of another canal being dug.”
MRGO Must Go Coalition officials have said their study does not endorse a specific location or design for the Violet diversion, only that a diversion is key to wetlands restoration. The report does, however, call for the diversion to allow a maximum flow of 7,500 to 15,000 cubic feet per second or greater, a flow that far exceeds the 200 to 300 cfs of the current Violet diversion.
Other components to the report include restoring the Central Wetlands; armoring the MRGO banks to combat storm surge; restoring land bridges at Lake Borgne, eastern Orleans Parish, Biloxi Marsh and Bayou la Loutre; and restoring the Gosier Barrier Island Chain.
Leaders said the plan is accomplishable, but the major hand-up is funding.
“Currently the Corps is authorized to do the MRGO restoration, but they don’t have the funds to do it,” said Juanita Constible with the National Wildlife Federation.
Constible said the typical cost share between the federal government and states is 65 percent to 35 percent, respectively. But for a project where the price tag could exceed $1 billion, that cost share is unreasonable, she said. State leaders, Constible said, have argued the Congressional mandate places the full financial burden on the federal government.
“We support the state in this interpretation,” Constible said. “But we’re also encouraging the state and the Corps to work together.”
The full study is available online at www.MRGOMustGo.org. The Corps will hold another meeting on the MRGO Ecosystem Restoration plan May 18 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at CF Rowley Alternative School in Chalmette. More information is available at www.nolaenvironmental.gov.