Disturbed beach in Pass Christian as construction begins. How does one keep a straight face while creating new environmental impacts with money meant to restore or mitigate for old ones? For the answer, you can look to the state of Mississippi, and the city of Pass Christian in particular, where dredging for a harbor expansion began December 15, 2011 on fifteen hundred feet of what was formerly public beach. This project is funded partly by the federal Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP), which is designed to compensate coastal states for the adverse impacts of offshore oil and gas exploration by funding projects that restore and protect coastal natural resources. Dredging this harbor impacts the beach, the shallow water bottoms and fish and wildlife habitat.
The irony and contradiction of using coastal restoration money to pay for any part of a new dredging project was not lost on the Federal Minerals Management Service (MMS) two years ago when they rejected this project, along with a similar project in Long Beach, Mississippi. What happened? Last year after the BP oil drilling disaster, MMS was punished, restructured and renamed. During this time, the applicants moved fast to amend and resubmit their rejected CIAP requests. In the ensuing agency confusion, and with a little congressional arm twisting, the Pass Christian and Long Beach harbor expansions were resurrected and funded. Dredging new harbors under the pretense of restoring the coast means that other CIAP projects that followed the program’s purposes and deserved funding were cut. What a shame.
Andrew Whitehurst is GRN's Assistant Director of Science and Water Policy.