State sues Army Corps of Engineers for nearly $1 billion in MR-GO costs

MRGO map

Louisiana has gone to federal court in its quest to have the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers foot the entire $3 billion bill for restoring damage caused by the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, which the agency built.

The state sued the corps in federal court Tuesday in New Orleans on the state’s long-standing claim that Congress intended the corps to pay the full cost of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet Ecosystem Restoration Project it passed in 2007. The corps says the project is like any other that Congress has authorized, which means the state must pay 35 percent of the cost, or nearly $1 billion.*

Dug in the 1960s form Breton Sound through the eastern wetlands of St. Bernard Parish as a shortcut between the Gulf and Port of New Orleans, the MR-GO quickly became an economic and environmental disaster. Traffic never came close to projections, and erosion caused by the project led to the loss of thousands of acres of marshes and swamps that once produced seafood and acted as a storm surge buffer for the metro area.

The channel also figured prominently in channeling Hurricane Katrina storm surge into the Industrial Canal, where flood walls improperly built by the corps collapsed, leading to massive flooding and hundreds of deaths in the Lower 9th Ward.

“This isn’t the only impasse with the corps that we feel is delaying and deferring progress on some of the projects that can provide protection and restoration along our coast,” said Jerome Zeringue, chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority in a release announcing the suit.  “We need to get past the point where the corps uses foot-dragging bureaucratic technicalities when it comes to restoring and preserving Louisiana’s working coast. We believe that on this and other issues Congress has been very clear in its intent to help Louisiana, and the corps needs to fulfill the wishes of Congress, not stand in the way.”

*An earlier version of the story said the corps wanted the state to pay more than $1 billion. The figure cited by the state in its lawsuit, in fact, is $975 million.

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