Locals may have cheered at news of the federal government’s decision earlier this year to close its Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet. After all, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina made clear the man-made waterway’s role as it funneled storm surge into local communities and dissolved the wetlands that have historically buffered the New Orleans area from such storms.
But the announcement itself isn’t enough to assuage concerns of advocates for hurricane preparedness and environmental restoration along the Gulf coast. That’s why they have formed a coalition called MR-GO Must Go to compel the Army Corps of Engineers to act quickly to close the channel and convince the federal government to help undo some of the damage the shipping channel has caused to the surrounding wetlands.
“We’re concerned because not a single shovel full of dirt has been put in the MR-GO and here we are three hurricane seasons out from Katrina,” says Aaron Viles, campaign director for the Gulf Restoration Network, a member of the MR-GO Must Go initiative.
The Corps built MR-GO in the 1960s by dredging through the coastal marshes, cypress swamps and shallow bays near New Orleans. It was intended to create a shorter route between the port of New Orleans and the open Gulf by bypassing the Mississippi River. Local advocates have long pointed out its peril for New Orleans-area communities. In June, Congress finally listened and officially de-authorized the channel, approving a plan recommending the construction of a rock dam to close off its opening near the town of Hopedale. That plan, however, has yet to be enacted and also falls far short of what MR-GO Must Go members and others say is essential for the safety and health of the region. The Corps’ own report says the closure will not in itself provide a significant hurricane or storm surge barrier but rather recognizes that the waterway causes marshland loss that leaves the areas more vulnerable to storms.
“When people hear MR-GO will go, they think it’ll be covered with dirt, but what the Corps has planned is much, much less than that,” says Viles. “The problem is this [channel] is huge now and we need to be strategic in how we close it. We have to restore the wetlands so there’s something to dampen the storm surge and dampen that funnel effect that proved so dangerous.”
The coalition’s Web site iswww.mrgomustgo.org.