The MRGO Must Go Coalition – which Louisiana Wildlife Federation is part of – and other community organizations recently submitted a letter to Assistant Secretary of the Army Michael Connor urging the Corps to prioritize restoration along the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) federal shipping channel.
A key request in the letter is to dedicate funding for MRGO ecosystem restoration in the President’s Fiscal Year 2025 Budget – the soonest funding could be appropriated since the FY24 budget had already been drafted.
The MRGO was a catastrophic project, destroying and degrading 1.2 million acres of protective marsh, swamps and other bodies of water in the Pontchartrain Basin. This destruction proved deadly as surge along the channel led to decimation of communities during Hurricane Katrina. Some communities along the MRGO, like the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, are still working to fully recover.
While the Corps has had a MRGO Ecosystem Restoration Plan for many years, no funding has been allocated for implementation. After the 2009 closure of the MRGO, the Army Corps finalized a plan for restoration in 2012. However, due to a dispute over responsibility for funding, further action was halted.
The Corps wanted Louisiana to bear some of the costs of restoration and would not move forward without that cost-share. The state pushed back due to congressional intent that the Corps bear the full cost of restoration and court findings that federal management decisions were solely responsible for the damage caused by MRGO. With a resulting dispute over cost share, the plan sat unimplemented for a decade.
In December 2022, however, Congress passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2022 (WRDA). Through the passage of WRDA 2022, Congress agreed to fund MRGO ecosystem restoration at full federal expense.
It’s worth noting that the state and partners has not been waiting on federal action all this time. There has been significant action taken to implement parts of the MRGO restoration plan including hydrologic restoration, shoreline protection, and marsh creation projects – projects like the Lake Borgne Marsh Creation Project, the Biloxi Marsh Living Shoreline Project, New Orleans East Landbridge, and the Central Wetlands Restoration Project.
Congress initially authorized MRGO restoration 14 years ago. Louisiana has waited long enough for implementation of the Corps’ MRGO Ecosystem Restoration Plan; there should be no additional delays. The Corps must prioritize MRGO ecosystem restoration with all possible speed and efficiency.
The Army Corps should immediately initiate work to restore the MRGO and the wetlands destroyed as a result of that channel. Any cost increases (or study update needs) resulting from the Army Corps’ long-delayed action should not slow these efforts.