[StBernard] Corps will ask to close MR-GO, official says

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Sun May 20 12:14:38 EDT 2007

Corps will ask to close MR-GO, official says
Posted by Times-Picayune May 20, 2007 12:33AM
By Ginger Gibson
Times-Picayune staff writer

The Army Corps of Engineers plans to recommend the immediate closure of the
Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, a corps representative told a cheering crowd
of about 100 at a town hall meeting Saturday in Chalmette.

St. Bernard Parish Councilman Joey DiFatta said later that the corps'
announcement was the strongest indication yet that St. Bernard officials
might get their wish and see the controversial shipping channel shut down.

But the closure won't be as immediate as some would like, and residents
still voiced frustration and concern about how the corps is handling the

Greg Miller, the corps' project manager for coastal restoration, said a
definitive start date cannot yet be set for work on closing the ship canal.

Miller said the corps' report on options for closing the channel will be
completed and available for congressional review in the fall. The project
team still must compile an environmental impact report, design a structure
to close the channel and award a contract to a construction company.

In response to concern about how long all that will take, Miller said the
team has worked on the report on an expedited basis, and after it is
submitted, the project's timeline will be in the hands of elected officials
in Washington.

Miller said it would take about 170 days to construct a dam.

"When Congress approves, we will implement the plan as soon as possible," he

But for some at the meeting, "as soon as possible" isn't soon enough.
"Why are we still having studies?" Meraux resident Jamie Shultz asked. "What
more proof do we need to have that it needs to go?"

Miller presented three alternatives for closing MR-GO, a channel that many
think contributed to flooding of St. Bernard and Orleans parishes during
Hurricane Katrina and that is blamed for the destruction of 27,000 acres of
wetlands since the 1960s.

The three alternatives are part of the report the corps will present to
Congress. All the options include deauthorizing the channel so that it would
no longer be a commercial waterway, plus continued work to restore the
nearby wetlands. \

The first option -- the one the corps is recommending -- would close the
channel by constructing a permanent rock dam near Bayou La Loutre. This
would require Congress to authorize the money to build the dam, after which
its design would have to be completed and a contractor hired.

The second option would have a dam built in the same place, but a portion
would be left open to allow vessels to use MR-GO until natural sediment
movement makes the channel no longer navigable. If this option is selected,
Miller said, it would likely be seven years before the corps would return
and fill in the remainder of the dam and permanently shut off the channel.

The third option the corps will present is for the federal government to
cease all maintenance work on MR-GO. This option would mean the channel
would no longer be dredged or maintained, so it eventually would become
unusable, but it would not be dammed.

Catherine Serpas of Toca said she is ready to see the channel closed.

"As long as that ship channel has water in it, we, the people of St. Bernard
Parish, will never be safe," Serpas said. "We need to have a second-line
parade on top of it -- then we will be safer than we have ever been."

The Senate passed legislation Wednesday approving the closing of MR-GO and
appropriating $165 million to relocate businesses along the shipping
channel. The bill also creates a 180-day deadline for the corps to begin
implementing the closure plan.

The House has passed its own version of the bill; a final vote could come by

DiFatta said he hopes the corps' support will speed Congress' decision to
provide money to shut the channel. "The sooner we do it, the better off we
are in getting maximum storm-surge protection," he said.

Starr Wilson, a New Orleans resident at Saturday's meeting, said she was
encouraged to hear the corps will recommend closing the channel completely,
but she was worried about how the contractor for the job would be selected.

"I would feel safer if it was a company we knew built quality and wasn't
trying to make money," Wilson said.

Others said the future of the nearby wetlands needed to be addressed

Albert Loar, a St. Bernard resident, said he thinks he's not getting enough
answers about the environmental side of the issue. "The real, whole picture
should be coastal erosion and not just closing MR-GO," Loar said.

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