NEW ORLEANS (CN) – Days after a federal judge allowed a lawsuit blaming much of Hurricane Katrina’s flooding and devastation on the Army Corps of Engineers’ negligent construction and maintenance of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, nearly 100 residents of New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish gathered to throw rocks into the mouth of the river – really.
St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro Jr., who organized the March 28 event, said “it was a symbolic gesture for the residents of St. Bernard closing the MRGO themselves.”
The “St. Bernard Voice” reported that the flotilla of boats allowed citizens to throw their personally inscribed rocks on the closure structure. An MRGO closure ceremony was held later at the Breton Sound Marina, kicked off by Taffaro’s words in anticipation of the recovery and growth that will be aided by the channel’s long-awaited closure.
“It’s only 27 percent complete, but it is the start of all of what we have worked for and waited for,” Taffaro said.
The Army Corps of Engineers is spending about $25 million to build a structure that will completely block the channel. It will consist of more than 433,000 tons of stone, 12 feet wide at the top and 450 feet wide at the bottom, stretching nearly 1,000 feet bank to bank at Bayou La Loutre Ridge, to close the channel to saltwater intrusion. The work began late February and is to be finished July 26. It is expected to help restore coastal marshes and cypress forests.
The Corps of Engineers’ original MRGO closure plan, included in the Water Resources Development Act, was amended by Congress last fall to require the Corps to restore wetlands surrounding the channel. The damage was done by the rapidly eroding channel that cuts across St. Bernard Parish.
“We think it’s great news,” said Garrett Graves, chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and director of the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities.
Graves told “The Gambit Weekly” that the Corps can use the rest of the $75 million provided by Congress to close the MRGO for additional restoration projects.
“The state does have some of its own funds in its annual (coastal master) plan that we’ll dedicate towards some of the priority restoration activities, but the new congressional legislation requires 100 percent federal financing for other projects in the future,” Graves said.
The trial demanded by homeowners who say the Corps’ negligent construction and maintenance is responsible for the flooding of their homes is scheduled to begin April 20, and is expected to last four weeks. The trial will be heard by U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval, without a jury.