Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) Ecosystem Restoration Plan Moves Forward

Amanda Moore, Coastal Louisiana Organizer for the National Wildlife Federation, co-authored this post.

After more than a year of tug-of-war between the state of Louisiana and the Army Corps of Engineers, the Corps finally released the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) Ecosystem Restoration Plan Draft Feasibility Report on Friday, December 17.  The Corps will accept comments about the plan from the public until January 31, 2011.  The report’s release marks an important and long-awaited step toward community protection and large-scale coastal restoration for the Greater New Orleans region.

MRGO, a deep draft shipping channel, contributed to the extensive flooding of the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish during Hurricane Katrina. In the Hurricane’s tragic wake, Congress directed the Corps to develop a plan to restore the areas affected by the channel.  MRGO has been a pox on the surrounding communities since construction first began in 1958, bisecting critical coastal habitat. The channel was created as a short cut from the Gulf of Mexico to the Port of New Orleans.  The deep draft channel also allowed salt water flow into the surrounding wetlands and cypress swamps, which disturbed the existing ecological balance, thereby destroying tens of thousands of acres of wetlands and cypress swamps.  The loss of these natural buffers, commonly referred to as the “first line of defense,” shepherded the Hurricane Katrina storm surge toward New Orleans, leaving communities exposed to the storm surge.  (Click on the image to see the wetland destruction.)

Now, more than 50 years after construction began, and years behind deadline, this vital plan to close the channel is ready and open for review.  The public voice is critical for both a strong restoration plan and implementation funding.  The Corps needs to hear from you to ensure a healthy and resilient coastal buffer between the New Orleans area and the Gulf of Mexico.

The MRGO Must Go Coalition, a group of 17 environmental and community organizations, will serve as a resource for the public comment period by providing insight and recommendations for the Draft Feasibility Report.  Sign up at www.MRGOmustGO.org for important updates as the comment process moves forward and to learn more about the MRGO.