School of Big Storms: MRGO

The MRGO Coalition releasing “10th Anniversary of Katrina: Making New Orleans a Sustainable Delta City of the Next Century”On August 10th, GRN and other members of the MRGO Must Go Coalition joined community members at the Bayou Bienvenue viewing platform in the Lower 9th Ward to mark 10 years since Hurricane Katrina devastated our region, and release a new report: 10th Anniversary of Katrina: Making New Orleans a Sustainable Delta City of the Next Century.In the report, we outlined some of the central failures that led to the extensive damage in the Greater New Orleans area (including the loss of thousands of acres of coastal wetlands that act as natural lines of defense against storm surge), assessed the progress made and issued a set of recommendations for ensuring New Orleans and surrounding communities are more sustainable.Our groups originally came together in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to advocate for the closure of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) – a navigation canal running from the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico that has led to the loss of hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands. During Hurricane Katrina, MRGO acted as a “hurricane storm surge super-highway,” funneling storm water into communities like the Lower 9th Ward.In the immediate wake of Katrina and Rita, GRN and the Sierra Club released another report, The School of Big Storms, which among other things, called for the closure of this “hurricane highway.” So, 10 years later, having gone to the “school of big storms,” have we learned our lessons?The answer is a resounding “sort of but we still have a ways to go,” and MRGO is a perfect example of why that’s the case. In School, we identified two lessons related to MRGO:Allowing navigational projects or development that destroy our natural storm barriers will only worsen the impacts from hurricanes.Protecting and restoring our barrier islands and coastal wetlands will protect our communities.Ten years later, we’ve made some progress. The MRGO Must Go Coalition successfully lobbied Congress for the closure of MRGO. The majority of Louisiana residents know the dangers we face from a disappearing coast and support restoration efforts. The state of Louisiana has developed a Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast, which is in part focused on restoring the barrier islands and coastal wetlands that protect our communities, and has started to implement some components of that plan.But we still have a ways to go. Thousands of miles of pipelines and canals crisscross our coast, leading to salt water intrusion and erosion. Many of these canal and pipelines are related to oil and gas activities, and our politicians continue to shield the industry from taking responsibility for cleaning up its mess and paying to fix its damage.While BP disaster fines and penalties are helping to pay for the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan, we still have yet to fully fund this $50 billion, 50 year plan. And, to quote our new report, “MRGO ecosystem restoration – critical to the protection of the Greater New Orleans Area – still waits for funding and implementation of keystone projects.” Standing on the edge of the Bayou last week as speakers reflected on the lives lost, the progress we’ve made, and the work that still needs to be done, I couldn’t help but think about why the work that GRN and other organizations working on coastal issues continues to be so important. In the ten years since Katrina there has been a sea change in how our politicians and many residents think about coastal restoration and we’ve made some progress to save our disappearing coast. However, we’re still going to have to move mountains to reach the goal of a sustainable coast and secure communities. Over the next week, many of us will be looking back on all that has happened in the last decade, and it’s important that we do that, but I hope that we also take some time to look forward to the important work that lies ahead. Raleigh Hoke is GRN’s Campaign Director.

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