U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’s Final Report on MRGO Heads to Congress

Thu June 19, 2008 - Southeast Edition
CEG




NEW ORLEANS (AP) The Army Corps of Engineers is closer to shutting down a navigation channel blamed for much of the flooding during Hurricane Katrina.

On June 5, the corps’ report on de-authorizing the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) was forwarded to Congress, allowing the corps to start construction on an earthen dam to plug the channel, said Rene Poche, a spokesman of the corps.

“This action officially de-authorized the MRGO from the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to the Gulf of Mexico,” a statement released by the corps said.

Alvin Lee, the commander of the corps’ New Orleans District, said the de-authorization marks a “significant milestone in the corps’ history.”

“We are ending almost 50 years of shipping on the channel,” Lee said.

The report recommends the construction of a rock structure just south of Bayou La Loutre near Hopedale that will consist of more than 391,500 tons (355,200 t) of stone and completely block the MRGO. “That’s equivalent to 65,000 Volkswagen Beetles,” Poche said.

The structure, which should be completed before the start of the 2009 hurricane season, is designed to be 12 ft. (3.6 m) wide at the top and 450 ft. (137 m) wide at the bottom, Poche said.

In addition, the plan will address ecosystem restoration.

Garret Graves, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s executive assistant for coastal activities, said the action is a “crucial first step to the restoration of the region’s coastal area.”

Because the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal lock repairs would impact shallow-draft navigation traffic, the corps is dredging the Baptiste Collette channel to allow marine traffic to bypass the lock. All of the material dredged from Baptiste Collette will be used to build coastal wetlands in the Mississippi River delta, the corps said.

After Katrina, the MRGO or “Mister Go,” turned into a symbol of the corps’ incompetence and history of ill-advised engineering projects. A lawsuit was filed alleging negligence on the agency’s part for digging the channel; the suit sparked an avalanche of claims amounting to more than $278 billion against the corps by tens of thousands of businesses, people and even the state of Louisiana.

Built in the 1960s as a shortcut for ships from the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans, the 76-mi. (122 km) MRGO morphed into a swamp killer as the Gulf’s salty water moved up the wide and deep channel. As the salt water altered the hydrology of the swamps southeast of New Orleans, it killed off swaths of cypress trees and marsh. At the same time, the channel widened, in many places tripling in size.

To view the chief’s report and the MRGO Deep-Draft De-Authorization final report and legislative environmental impact statement visit http://mrgo.usace.army.mil.