Residents of New Orleans are suing the US Army Corps of Engineers for failure to properly build and maintain the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet. Hurricane Katrina victims claim the waterway caused environmental damage that caused water to breach the levees. Residents are asking for damages caused by the resulting flooding.
The Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MR-GO), aka Mr. Go, was built by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1963 to provide a shorter shipping route between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. The MR-GO was officially de-authorized on June 5, 2008, and a rock structure is almost complete that will completely block the channel. As of April 22, 2009, the MR-GO at Bayou La Loutre has been closed to navigation. The Times-Picayune explains:
The closing will end 45 years of navigation on the 60-mile shipping channel that provided a shortcut from New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico. Although the corps contended that the channel, completed in the 1960s, had minimal impact on Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge, MR-GO took the brunt of criticism for the massive flooding in St. Bernard Parish and part of New Orleans during the 2005 storm.
In 2006, residents filed suit against the Army Corps of Engineers; however, the US Government asked for the case to be thrown out. According to Workers World, a 2007 report was issued stating the Army Corps of Engineers knowingly “built levees and floodwalls lower than mandated by Congress, failed to detect or ignored errors, and failed to properly maintain the system.” The government responded that building storm surge barriers “invalidated the cost-benefit calculations” of the channel and did not aid navigation, the primary purpose of the MR-GO. On March 20, 2009, U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. denied the government’s request to throw out the lawsuit and stated the plaintiffs “demonstrated that there are material questions of fact that the Corps itself had found that the environmental damage caused by the maintenance and operation of the MRGO was significant.”
The MR-GO, nicknamed “hurricane highway” by locals, has been blamed by environmentalists for killing off over 20,000 acres of cypress wetlands and marsh, which are vital in protecting the area from hurricanes. Environmental damage will be mitiaged as part of the MR-GO closure plan by creating marshes, barrier islands, shoreline protection and freshwater diversions from the Mississippi River. The MR-GO rock closure structure is expected to be completed by hurricane season 2009.