The Billion Dollar Question: Who pays for MRGO ecosystem restoration?
By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation
Last Tuesday, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority authorized the state attorney general to file suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in an effort to get the federal government to pick up 100 percent of the expense for the federal plan for ecosystem restoration of damage caused by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO). Since 2008, there has been an ongoing dispute between the state and the Corps involving interpretation of Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) of 2007 legislation, in which Congress directed the Corps to develop a plan for restoration of the MRGO ecosystem at full federal expense.
The $3 billion plan, mandated for completion by May of 2008, was finally completed in 2012. Yet, there is still disagreement over what cost share Congress intended, leaving this critical federal restoration effort at a standstill. The state contends that construction is a 100 percent federal expense, while the Corps contends that the typical cost share on restoration projects, 65 percent federal and 35 percent state, applies. This billion dollar question will now be determined by a judge.
The MRGO Must Go Coalition, a group of 17 conservation and neighborhood organizations working since 2006 to see the MRGO closed and the ecosystem restored, has researched this cost share issue for several years. We believe that Congress intended for the MRGO projects under WRDA to be at 100 percent federal cost for construction, responding to the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish during Katrina and the devastating role the MRGO played in this event.
Given the extent and urgency of the restoration needs, however, we call on the state of Louisiana, the Corps and potentially other federal agencies to work together to identify all available funding sources and ensure restoration moves forward in a timely manner. All parties involved should be present to work, first and foremost, to ensure timely implementation of comprehensive MRGO ecosystem restoration, as mandated by Congress. We are painfully aware that, every day, the MRGO ecosystem further deteriorates and communities remain at risk.
We welcome this opportunity for the federal court to resolve the cost share dispute. But no matter how the ruling comes down, the bigger question remains: Where will the funds come from to pay for the $3 billion in restoration projects outlined in the MRGO ecosystem restoration plan? Billions of dollars will have to be appropriated by Congress. It is our job, as stakeholders in the resiliency and safety of the Greater New Orleans Area and as citizens who care about justice being served for the communities and ecosystem torn apart by the MRGO, to ensure that our leaders in Congress clearly understand the importance of this restoration effort and that they find the will to get it done. Learn more and take action at www.MRGOmustGO.org.