[StBernard] Emotions run high as St. Bernard residents mark close of MR-GO

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Sat Mar 28 23:51:04 EDT 2009

Video: http://adjix.com/2nvy

Emotions run high as St. Bernard residents mark close of MR-GO

07:06 PM CDT on Saturday, March 28, 2009

Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News

mrodriguez at wwltv.com

ST. BERNARD, La. - A small flotilla made its way through the bayou waters of
St. Bernard Parish: boats loaded with piles of rocks, ready to be thrown
into the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, MR-GO.

It marked an emotional day for a group of residents, who traveled to the
site where the MR-GO will be closed.

"It's a long time coming," said Peggy Messina of Meraux. "We all lost our
homes, my whole family, everyone, all of our friends lost their homes. So,
this is long overdue."

Many of the residents of St. Bernard Parish blame the man-made waterway for
helping to carry Hurricane Katrina's storm surge right into their homes.
Water from the surge damaged nearly every single building in the parish.

"It took two major catastrophic events in the history of this country for us
to get MR-GO moved and that was 25 years in the making," said U.S. Rep.
Charlie Melancon, D-Louisiana.

Now, though, the closure is about to become a reality, marked by a ceremony
on Saturday morning. Residents threw small rocks into the site, where a
seven-foot rock dam will be built across the waterway, effectively shutting
down the MR-GO. Some of the boaters wrote personal messages on their rocks;
others wrote the names of loved ones, who didn't make it to see this day.

"I threw one in for my mom and for my neighbors and for me," Messina said,
as her eyes welled up with tears.

"It represents generations of effort, generations of fighting and concern --
and really the focus of saving St. Bernard," said Parish President Craig

The idea is that, eventually, the closure of the MR-GO will do two things:
one, stop massive amounts of water from being pushed into the area during a
storm and, two, restore some of the wetlands here. However, it will take
years to get to that point.

The Army Corps of Engineers is currently working on building the seven-foot
structure that will block ships from using the waterway, but officials
admit, it won't do much to stop major storm surge.

"We have to continue to work to restore our levees, to restore our
coastline, to re-grow our cypress forests, to put storm surge protection
through Lake Borgne," Taffaro said. "All of those activities -- rebuilding
the barrier islands, those are all critical steps that are part of the
master plan."

It is a master plan that St. Bernard residents are counting on to eventually
provide real storm protection for their community.

"We made a commitment, we came back eight months after the storm and we're
here for the long haul," said Norman Vancourt, a St. Bernard resident. "So,
much has to be done, but you have to make that first step -- and this is the
first step."

The seven-foot dam structure will be built across the MR-GO at Bayou La
Loutre. Construction is expected to wrap up by this summer.

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