August 29th will always be an infamous day on the Gulf Coast. Seven years ago this week, Hurricane Katrina and its storm surge swamped the Gulf Coast and the world watched us drown. This week was supposed to be filled with solemn commemorations and celebrations of how far we've come since 80% of New Orleans flooded and much of the Mississippi Gulf Coast was razed. I was especially looking forward to hearing and participating in a series of panel discussions focused on various arenas of grassroots organizing that flourished after Katrina.
Instead, we find ourselves once again battening down the hatches and preparing cars for evacuation as Tropical Storm Isaac builds steam over the warm waters of the Gulf. Our hearts go out to everyone in harms way, and we encourage all residents of the Gulf to take this threat seriously and act accordingly. The National Hurricane Service is issuing regular updates, and localnews websites have up-to-date evacuation information. The State of Louisiana has a useful evacuation guide, and there are some things to prepare for those who ride it out.
We are once again wondering if our wetlands have been too degraded to sufficiently slow the storm surge and weaken the hurricane, questioning our hurricane protection system, and I'm sadly envisioning the nasty oil and other remnants from BP's disaster that are being stirred up in the Gulf right now.
As I write this, areas of southern Louisiana are under a mandatory evacuation, businesses throughout the Gulf coast are closing, and all over New Orleans water, gas, and batteries are selling out. The GRN office is ready. After a staff meeting that focused on everyone's individual plans, we moved all our office electronics away from windows, filled jugs of water, and backed up computers. Our office will be officially closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
I was about to head home today to cover up my windows and make sure there's nothing that will blow around in my yard, but hurricanes force a greater recognition of the issues we work on everyday. I wanted to take a moment to share some thoughts. Of course, none of this matters right now to our friends on the coast who are preparing for the worst, but for those of you watching the Gulf from afar or hungrily consuming as much info as possible from your fortified, canned-good-laden home in New Orleans, here are a few stories to consider.
The Mississippi River- Gulf Outlet (MRGO) Restoration Plan is four years late and is once again stalled. It's ironic that the latest disruption - a showdown between the US Army Corps of Engineers and the State of Louisiana over who pays what for restoration - has come in the heart of hurricane season when the 27,000 acres of wetlands that were destroyed by MRGO, aka the Hurricane Highway, are most desperately needed for protection. Clearly, the two entities need to work out their differences and get this job done. The MRGO has been officially closed with a rock dam, and the channel itself will slowly silt in, but the restoration effort on the wetlands lost and the over 600,000 acres of wetlands that were affected has yet to even begin. With Tropical Storm Isaac headed right for the mouth of the MRGO, it's painfully clear just what all the delays could mean for southern Louisiana.
Last year, when Tropical Storm Lee churned through the Gulf and came ashore in Louisiana, it exposed oil from BP's disaster that had sunk to the ocean floor or infiltrated the muds of the marsh. Although we continue to find BP's oil still today on our monitoring trips to the Gulf, the Coast Guard has given many areas the "all clean" designation, which lets BP off the hook for further clean up unless the Coast Guard can prove its BP's oil (a costly process). When Isaac pounds ashore, I worry that we'll once again see tarballs, tarmats, and even gooey oil. Although this time, ensuring that BP is held accountable for clean up will be much more difficult.
Finally, to end on a happier note, the RESTORE Act can help rebuild our coastal lines of defense. The RESTORE Act directs significant amounts of resources to restoring the Gulf. If they're used on a science-based restoration initiative that prioritizes our natural resources, we'll be in a much better position for the next big storm.
We'll likely be signing off for a couple days as our staff scatter to avoid Isaac's wrath, but our thoughts and support lie with all those who are affected by this storm. When we get back and things settle, we'll be even more motivated to work hard to defend the Gulf.
Dan Favre is GRN's Communication Director.