January 13, 2023

Federal Funding for Louisiana’s “Hurricane Highway” Likely on the Way

Federal Funding for Louisiana’s “Hurricane Highway” Likely on the Way

Louisiana’s “Hurricane Highway” might finally be next in line to receive federal funds to repair a collection of widespread ecological damage from the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MRGO) shipping channel, according to this article from NOLA.com. The Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet shipping channel is a 76-mile channel constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during the mid 20th century that provides a shorter route between ships traveling from the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans’ inner harbor Industrial Canal via the Intracoastal Waterway, and ever since Hurricane Katrina struck the area in 2005, New Orleans residents have cursed the area, and state officials and activists have labeled it a “hurricane highway.”

It’s expected that Congress will soon approve legislation that will indicate that the federal government is responsible for financing a plan to restore wetlands eroded by the Mississippi River-Gulf outlet, or “Mr. Go,” as it’s often referred to. Despite the fact that the money would still need to be appropriated, the fact is that this years-long dispute over determining who should pay to restore the wetlands will finally come to a close. This note of legislative closure will be seen as a major victory for Louisiana officials, once passed.

U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, who has worked closely on the issue in Congress, commented on this issue by saying, “overall in terms of ecological productivity and buffer, this is an important project that needs to happen, and it is mitigating the adverse impacts of the federal project that was the MRGO.” Rep. Graves was formerly the state’s point man on coastal restoration.

The provision of funds is only a part of broader legislation that will authorize water-related projects nationwide, and Nola.com provided a list of the other Louisiana levee and flood protection projects that would be included in that authorization. The U.S. House of Representatives approved the legislation recently, and the Senate is expected to do the same in the coming days.

The shipping channel, which is 76-miles, was originally built as a shortcut from the Gulf of Mexico to the “doorstep” of New Orleans.  It has since been labeled a “hurricane highway” by Louisiana officials due to the fact that many storm surges were funneled through the MRGO during Hurricane Katrina, contributing to the devastating levee failure that allowed for the city to be inundated. While the Army Corps of Engineers has since reportedly downplayed the channel’s role during Katrina, MRGO’s long-term effects are still considered to run much deeper.

Since the channel fully opened in 1968, it has helped erode vast areas of marsh and wetlands in the passing decades. This has resulted in the damaging of the New Orleans area’s natural storm buffer and the alteration of the ecosystem at large. Additionally, saltwater intrusion through the MRGO, which was originally not used as heavily as was originally intended by the shipping industry, has aided in the destruction of cypress and tupelo swamp that once bordered the city of New Orleans.

Whenever the channel was closed in 2009 with the construction of a rock dam at Bayou La Loutre, it was disputed who should pay for the damage the channel left behind in its wake and where the funds should have originated from, making this recent indication of a nearby victory all-the-more encouraging.

Amanda Moore, the director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Gulf Program, is also the coordinator of the MRGO Must Go Coalition. She spoke about the issue by saying that this new legislation “marks a crucial milestone for addressing the disastrous legacy of the MRGO. More than 17 years after Hurricane Katrina, Congress has clarified its original intent – to fully and federally fund implementation of the MRGO ecosystem restoration plan.”

For more Louisiana-related articles, click here.

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