On Thursday, August 27th, U.S. District Judge, Lance Africk, held that the Army Corps of Engineers is fully liable for $3 billion for the restoration of wetlands destroyed by the improper construction and maintenance of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO). THE MRGO is a 72-mile shortcut from the Gulf of Mexico to the Industrial Canal in central New Orleans. The MRGO was improperly maintained and resulted in severe damage to nearly 60,000 acres of coastal wetlands that once protected communities in New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish from storms.
The decision came after years of disagreement between the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the state of Louisiana about the cost-share for restoration; the Army Corps of Engineers claimed that Louisiana was responsible for 35% of the restoration cost, while Louisiana claimed the Army Corps of Engineers was fully responsible.
This is a big win for the Greater New Orleans area and the state of Louisiana. The wetlands that once stood where the MRGO is now were critical in protecting the Greater New Orleans area from storm surge. The Corps has delayed restoration efforts since 2007 when Congress deauthorized the MRGO and ordered the corps to come up with a plan to restore wetlands damage caused by the canal. In 2012, the Corps submitted a $2.9 billion plan for restoration but the Corps refused to implement the plan because the state refused to pay the 35% cost share the Corps claimed.
The 2012 Corps’ plan to restore the MRGO wetlands called for a three-tier restoration project, with the first tier costing $1.3 billion. The second and third tiers were expected to require additional research before they were implemented.
Tier 1 would implement 21 projects, including 11 shoreline protection projects, a ridge restoration project, 8 wetlands restoration projects and a recreation feature. Wetlands adjacent to the Rigolets in St. Tammany Parish and in open water areas south of the MRGO and Shell Beach in St. Bernard Parish were included.
Projects also would stabilize wetland edges at Proctor Point and on the east and west sides of Lake Borgne, and the planting of 5.8 miles of artificial oyster reef on the Chandeleur Sound side of the Biloxi Marsh.