BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – This week, the Army Corp of Engineers published its final environmental report on the proposed sediment diversion project in the Mid-Barataria Basin.
The report for the $2 billion project reveals that while it will be beneficial when it comes to restoring injuries sustained during the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, the project could also cause some harm in terms of flooding and damaging wildlife.
At their monthly meeting on Wednesday, the Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority reviewed some of the added costs for mitigation for some of the potential damages.
The project would pump sediment from the Mississippi River through the levee just below Belle Chasse to build back land that has slowly been disappearing.
CPRA believes this project is critical.
“It is from a restoration standpoint, the most important restoration project in the coastal master plan because it has the ability to build and maintain more land than any other project,” said CPRA Chairman Chip Kline.
The project will provide significant protections from storm surge in the New Orleans westbank area and is projected to make 21-square miles of land over the next 50 years.
People in the neighboring communities of Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes fear the unintended consequences of the diversion.
CPRA is already dedicating over $380-million towards mitigation to reduce flooding, the impact on the fishing industry, and the loss of marine mammals.
“They’re facing issues right now with what we call sunny day or nuisance flooding. They’re outside of flood protection at this point in time. The roads, infrastructure and so forth are flooding at this point in time,” said CPRA Executive Director Bren Haase. “And so our intent in developing the mitigation plan for the communities is to…address many of the problems that they’re facing today with that nuisance flooding with their yards flooding, their carports, and bottom floors and so forth. But also address potential increases in flooding that the project may bring.”
The report from the Army Corp of Engineers explains the project will have major benefits for wetland wildlife as the sediment creates marsh. But when it comes to dolphins the outlook doesn’t seem as good.
The report states, “These impacts would result in decreased survival rates of BBES (Barataria Bay Estuarine System) dolphins, with some studies projecting the functional extinction of dolphins in portions of the BBES stock over time, with only a remnant population of BBES dolphins present near the barrier islands by the end of the 50-year assessment period.”
CPRA is setting aside $60-million for mitigation with this issue. Fishermen have also raised alarm with concerns that the change in sediment will damage oyster and shrimp habitats.
“Areas that are productive right now may not be in the future with the project in place, but areas that aren’t productive right now because they’re too salty may be productive in the future,” said Haase.
Read the breakdown of the mitigation funding here.
Members of the board referred to the hundreds of community meetings that were set up to allow the public voice concerns. These helped create a roadmap that would guide officials on how to address issues.
In fact, the mitigation plans were born out of public comments.
The Army Corp received 40,000 comments from the public on the project.
“It’s important to them. It’s generational. So we all understand what’s happening with these families and their concerns,” said St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis.
The Army Corp still has to decide if the project is in the best interest of the people before allowing it to move forward. That decision is expected in December. If approved, the project would take five years to build.
You can read the full environmental report from the Army Corp of Engineers here.