In an “unusual step,” a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Report released Tuesday recommends construction of coastal restoration work near the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet once a nonfederal cost-share sponsor has been found.
Although a previous feasibility report recommended “no further action” on the plan because the corps maintains that a local sponsor is needed to take over 35 percent of the construction costs, the chief engineer’s report recommends construction work on 57,000 acres near the navigation channel that was closed in 2009 with a rock barrier.
“Because of the critical importance of this project, the corps took the unusual step to execute a full study notwithstanding the absence of an identified sponsor willing to cost-share implementation at 65 percent federal 35 percent nonfederal,” according to a corps news release.
“At this time, such a cost-share sponsor has not been identified. Once such a cost-share sponsor is identified, the corps can proceed to implement elements of the plan subject to availability of funds,” the news release says.
Garret Graves, chairman of the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, agrees about the importance of the restoration work and has said repeatedly that it is critical for Louisiana. The state also sent a letter to the corps on Sept. 27 restating that CPRA would be the nonfederal sponsor, but that being the nonfederal sponsor does not obligate the state for the cost share.
Graves said since the draft report on the restoration plan essentially would have killed the restoration project, he appreciated the corps’ “half step” Tuesday toward getting the project built by issuing the chief’s report with a recommendation to continue the work.
However, state coastal officials and the corps continue to disagree about the cost-share requirement. The state maintains the same congressional authorization that built the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet closure in 2009 at 100 percent federal cost also applies to the restoration work.
The corps maintains that since it’s not specifically stated that the restoration work around the channel will be 100 percent federal, the agency has to follow regulations in the Water Resources Development Act of 1986, which requires a cost-share partner.
The state has acted as the cost-share partner in many projects before, but maintains that it was never the intent of Congress for the state to come up with 35 percent of the estimated $3 billion cost for restoration project.
Congress authorized the project after Hurricane Katrina to help repair wetlands damaged by the construction and operation of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, also known as Mr. Go. That loss of wetlands from the time of construction of the channel in the 1950s and 1960s until 2005 was widely blamed for more extensive flooding in areas of the coast like St. Bernard Parish.
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