The Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) was a shipping channel constructed in the 1960s that provided large vessels a shorter route from the Gulf of Mexico to the Industrial Canal in New Orleans. The 72-mile-long, 36-foot-deep federal navigation channel was originally 500 feet wide. Over time, however, it eroded to a massive 2,500 feet in some areas. Nearby wetlands, which serve as critical protection for coastal communities, were significantly degraded or completely destroyed.
Dubbed a “hurricane super-highway” by locals, residents had long been concerned about the channel’s ability to drive storm surge straight into their communities. Those fears came to fruition in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina barreled up the channel with a 26-foot storm surge that devastated parts of St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward as the surge caused overtopping of levees and flood wall failures that claimed the lives of hundreds of people in the area.
LWF has supported closure of the MRGO long before the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (read our 2001 resolution). In 2006, LWF joined other local and national environmental, social justice and community organizations to form the MRGO Must Go Coalition. The Coalition’s mission is to ensure that the ecosystem impacted by MRGO is restored. The MRGO was finally closed after the storm and work began to restore the ecosystem. See the coalition’s 2020 white paper, MRGO: The Road to Recovery for an overview of progress made and work still needed to restore the area.
While the road to recovery has indeed been long, some good news has come out of Washington, D .C. last week. Congress has provided the long-awaited federal dollars for MRGO through passage of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2023 (NDAA), which included the Water Resources Development Act of 2022 (WRDA).
The bill finally settles years of cost share disputes between the State of Louisiana and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) for restoration of the MRGO. Ecosystem restoration will be funded at 100% federal expense. (The bill also includes other levee and flood protection projects.)
Louisiana Wildlife Federation is excited to see this area finally get the funding that has long been needed to provide adequate restoration to the degraded ecosystem surrounding MRGO. As part of the MRGO Must Go Coalition, we have provided a joint statement on this important decision.
Read the coalition’s full statement here.
“This WRDA marks a crucial milestone for addressing the disastrous legacy of the MRGO. More than 17 years after Hurricane Katrina, Congress has clarified its original intent – to fully and federally fund implementation of the MRGO Ecosystem Restoration Plan. With this clarification, we can build upon our past achievements in habitat restoration and continue forward on recovery that impacted communities so rightly deserve.”
Amanda Moore, Gulf Program Director, National Wildlife Federation and coordinator of the MRGO Must Go Coalition