Filed Under:  Local, News

MRGO continues to cause angst as feds, state officials reach impasse

10th September 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Mason Harrison
Contributing Writer

Federal and state officials have reached an impasse in deciding who will foot the bill to restore the now-closed massive Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) to a state resembling the wetlands that once covered the shipping area. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recommended in June that the restoration project be shelved until the dispute over a cost-sharing agreement between the agency and the state of Louisiana can be ironed out.

Corps officials contend that a proper reading of the federal mandate to restore the area in and around the Gulf outlet requires a 20 percent financial contribution from the state of Louisiana. To carry out the overhaul of the ecosystem in the outlet area, the Corps proposes the “execution of a binding cost sharing agreement” and promises to “continue to coordinate with [state officials] in the development and implementation of the restoration plan, according to a report detailing the feasibility of restoring the MRGO region.

But state officials counter that the financial burden of restoring the Gulf outlet—taken from their reading of the same federal mandate—rests squarely with the Corps stating that the restoration project is to be “undertaken at full Federal expense” and asserting that Louisiana “has no financial obligations” to help underwrite the project, according to a 2010 letter to the Corps from the state’s coastal affairs division.

Further muddying the waters is the state of Mississippi’s decision to interpret the federal MRGO statute as requiring it to pony up five percent of the overall cost of returning the shipping channel to its natural state.

Since closing the MRGO in 2009, stakeholders have discussed how to best return the land near the outlet back to wetlands and reduce salinity levels in the brackish and fresh water coastal areas. The project was controversial from its start in the late 1950s and remained a political flashpoint until Hurricane Katrina’s path into the southeast Louisiana was made easier via the MRGO, prompting the channel’s closing four years later.

Federal and state officials are now in a holding pattern as each side mulls a way forward in the debate over who’s financially responsible under the law for restoring the MRGO. The Corps’ report detailing the decision to put off the restoration effort can be found online by visiting the agency’s Web site at www.usace.army.mil.

This article was originally published in the September 10, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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