Louisiana has sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over whether the state owes any money for the closure or ecosystem restoration work associated with the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet.
The state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New Orleans on Tuesday, maintains the $3 billion in work should be 100 percent federally funded.
The Corps says the state must pay 35 percent of the cost of the closure of the outlet that runs through St. Bernard Parish as well as of restoration work to repair some of the damage done by the channel.
The closure was completed in 2009, but only after the state signed an agreement to share the cost of the work, with the caveat that the state reserved the right to challenge the agreement.
“They’re entrenched in their position, and we feel confident in our position,” said Jerome Zeringue, the governor’s executive assistant for coastal activities and chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority board.
Congress authorized a Mississippi River Gulf Outlet Ecosystem Restoration Project in 2007 that directed the Corps to come up with a restoration plan that would address damage done by the channel. The state maintains that Congress spelled out that the restoration work would also be at 100 percent federal expense, but the Corps has maintained that the state needs to pick up 35 percent of the estimated $3 billion cost.
An official with the Corps’ New Orleans District office said there would be no comment on the lawsuit. The Department of Justice didn’t return a call for a comment.
Built in the late 1950s and 1960s, the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet was meant to be a quicker way for ships to get into New Orleans from the Gulf of Mexico. However, the ecological damage added up when erosion caused the channel to widen greatly from its original 500-foot bottom. In addition, the relatively straight navigation channel helped bring saltwater farther into freshwater marshes, which also helped accelerate land loss.
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 spurred local, state and national representatives to push for closure of the seldom-used navigation channel and for some restoration of damaged coastal wetlands.
Although the Corps has completed a restoration plan, the state has been told the Corps won’t move forward with any of the projects included in the plan until the state agrees to share the cost, Zeringue said.
The projects included in the Corps’ tentative restoration plan include 70 miles of shoreline protection along Lake Borgne, Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet.
In addition, the plan would include restoration and protection of more than 58,000 acres within southeast Louisiana. That work includes barrier island restoration, restoring water movement in the area, wetland creation projects and more.
The Corps plan includes many worthy projects, Zeringue said, which is why the state is proposing some of the projects be done with money coming from Deepwater Horizon RESTORE Act payments, with the expectation the funds will be reimbursed if the state is successful in its lawsuit.
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