I’ve been holding onto a news story that I know will be of interest to our good friend Editilla over at the Ladder that I hope will set the tone for some thoughtful discussion on the wisdom of filling in marshes and then building levees to protect the resulting development. We’ve discussed flood mitigation in depth here on Slabbed and we’re fans of it. What we’re not fans of is filling in wetlands and building levees and the reason is simple, the water has to go someplace and in this case it is the non-marshy, once high and dry areas of the Mississippi Gulf Coast that take the hit.
Predictably the Army Corps of Engineers mislead local officials, this time assuring local leaders such as Hancock County Board of Supervisor president Rocky Pullman the levee construction related to Lake Pontchartrain that is contained in the Louisiana Coastal Restoration Plan would not impact the Mississippi coast when their own study painted a much different picture. Let’s visit with a recent AP story run in the Clarion Ledger to get the details:
Hancock County officials have told the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that a new levee system planned to protect eastern Louisiana from future hurricanes will likely increase flooding in parts of coastal Mississippi.
The Hancock County board of supervisors met with Corps officials last week to talk about the corps’ Louisiana Coastal Restoration Plan, which includes two large floodgates, or weirs, and a line of levees stretching from New Orleans East up the Pearl River…….
Local officials had been assured in March (by USACE) that none of the current construction would adversely affect South Mississippi.
Pullman told the newspaper the plan the corps now proposes would mean that once water gets trapped in the levee system, “it is going to go to the path of least resistance, which is us, only 19 miles away.”
And as detailed Louisiana Coastal Restoration Plan the Army Corps acknowledges land that was once high and dry in Mississippi will pay the price for allowing unwise risky development in the Louisiana marshes:
“It was determined that the LACRP ‘weir’ alignment and high/level Slidell levee alignment would impact Hancock County through increased flooding.”
It stands to reason it would, though I do not agree that closing MRGO is in any way responsible for flooding problems in Hancock County. Creating new marshlands in it’s place along with restoring the marshlands in St Bernard parish that have been lost will do more over the long term to decrease coastal flooding in both metro New Orleans and the Mississippi coast than building miles of new levees will ever accomplish as we circle back to the AP story:
“The purpose of this plan is to keep water from storing in Lake Pontchartrain,” corps official David Jenkins told supervisors.
The St. Tammany Parish Council recently endorsed building the levees and weirs.
Currently, the corps is building a 24-to-26 foot barrier to seal off part of Lake Pontchartrain. Also being constructed are two 150-feet-wide gates and a 56-foot-wide gate to seal off the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet.
Pullman contends closing off the MRGO, combined with the existing New Orleans levee system, would act as a western wall for a northeastern tracking storm and the proposed construction in St. Tammany Parish would put more water in Hancock County.
Supervisors said several private levees under construction already had an effect on South Mississippi, creating flooding from Hurricanes Gustav and Ike which made landfall hundreds of miles from Mississippi.
“Before Katrina, we did not have water in Pearlington for 100 years,” Pullman said. “Last year, we had it twice and the storms did not even hit here.”
Pullman said even if the corps’ proposal resulted in one or two feet of storm surge, it “could be the difference in someone getting water in their house and our communities being flooded.”
Dr Ivor Van Heerden is on record saying as much about the Mississippi River levees causing surge increases on the Mississippi coast with Katrina. Those levees are also responsible for the deterioration of the coastal marshes that once provided a very important natural storm buffer between New Orleans and the Gulf.
Will the Louisiana Coastal Restoration Plan be fully implemented complete with new levees in St Tammany? Gene Taylor doesn’t seem to think so as we continue with the AP report:
U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., said congressional leaders are taking a hard look at the plan.
Taylor said the enormous costs of the potential project coupled with the potential effects on Mississippi make it unlikely it will ever be funded.
“The further we get away from Katrina, the harder it is going to be to fund these types of things,” he said.
Unlike the Louisiana plan, the Mississippi Coastal Restoration Project has already been sent to Congress, Taylor said. The Mississippi plan includes island and ecosystem restoration and a voluntary buy-out plan.
Taylor said strengthening the islands and wetlands is a better way to protect the coast.
“What the barriers do is break the waves and the energy spills into the island or marsh,” he said. “The centerpiece of our plan is restoring Ship Island.”
The differences in how Mississippi and Louisiana are approaching these very complex problems is most telling. It would help if the US Army Corp of Engineers could address the ugly truths of what they are doing before destroying the environment with the constriction of yet more levees protecting “land” that should have never been developed to begin with. If anyone with USACE cares to comment on this post we’d love to hear from you.
Tear down the Wall….