Louisiana’s largest coastal project ‘at the 2-yard line,’ CPRA says

Opposition vows to put up a firm defense against giant Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion
Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 5:36 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Southwest of Morgan City, a channel cut from the Atchafalaya River in the 1940s built a brand new delta, accidentally.

No one expected it, but supporters of using the Mississippi River to build land often point to the Wax Lake Outlet.

“This is tremendous habitat,” said David Muth, a retired staffer at the National Wildlife Federation who remains active in coastal issues.

The proposed $2 billion Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion on the west bank south of Belle Chasse would be the state’s largest-ever coastal restoration project, an ambitious and controversial plan to channel up to 75,000 cubic feet of river water into the marsh.

A final Environment Impact Study released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finds this effort to mimic the river’s land-building powers would produce 27 square miles of land in year 30 of the project.

Because of future sea level rise and subsidence, that figure would decrease to 21 square miles by 50 years after the diversion began sending river water and sediment into the bay.

“We’re at the 2-yard-line,” said Chip Kline, Chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

The concept of the diversion has been discussed since 1984, but the final EIS represents a milestone in the efforts to make it a reality.

“We have a lot of science on our side, we know we have supporters on our side,” said Simone Maloz, campaign director of the 5-group coalition, Restore the Mississippi River Delta. “So, we have to implement projects like this and real change in Louisiana.”

Supporters of using the Mississippi River to build land point to an ‘accidental delta’ near Morgan City

A canal into the Wax Lake area produced new marsh and islands over the last 80 years

Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion
Louisiana works on a multi-million dollar plan to reclaim some of the wetlands Hurricane Ida destroyed

CPRA hopes to restore some of the 106 square miles of wetlands destroyed in Hurricane Ida

A small island sits isolated as land erodes around it near Irish Bayou in New Orleans
Free coastal project? Or a threat to navigation?

Coastal activists question Army Corps plan to partially close Neptune Pass

Neptune Pass with the Mississippi River in the bottom of the frame

However, the science also shows there would be costs.

The introduction of trillions of gallons of fresh water into the bay could devastate bottlenose dolphins in Barataria Bay.

There would also be damage to other species, including endangered sea turtles, the EIS notes.

While some species, such as alligators and crabs, could benefit, the diversion could devastate existing oyster beds and the commercial fishermen who rely upon them.

“Why do a project that’s going to economically harm the very communities you’re trying to save?” said George Ricks, a charter boat captain who leads the anti-diversion “The Save Louisiana Coalition.”

The plan calls for nearly $380 million in mitigation efforts, from flood protection for communities downstream of the structure to assistance for fishers impacted by the project.

A final decision from the Corps on whether to grant the required permits is anticipated in December.

A decision to grant the permit will almost certainly trigger challenges in court.

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