The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has released the environmental impact statement that allows a key component of a massive coastal restoration project planned for the Louisiana coast to move forward. Writing in the New York Times, John Schwartz reports that the Corps called the proposed project largely beneficial but expressed concern for the effects it could have on marine life.
The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project is designed to replenish the sediment that has eroded away from Louisiana’s coast, sediment that was naturally replenished before man-made levees contained the flow of the river. “If the corps issues final permits, which could happen as early as next year, a $1.4 billion structure will be dug into the western bank of the river below New Orleans. It will include gates that allow operators to control the flow of water and sediment from the mighty river into Barataria Bay, nearly an Olympic swimming pool’s worth of water every second.”
To counter negative impacts, the project sets aside “millions of dollars to monitor dolphin populations and protect them, as well as helping to pay to relocate oyster beds to areas that will have the right level of salinity” and fund boat upgrades to help fishermen reach waters farther ashore. Acknowledging the dangers as well as the necessity of the project, Richie Blink, a council member of the Plaquemines Parish government, emphasized the importance of a safety net for “the people who are impacted most by the structure and the project.” Opponents argue there are less destructive ways to stave off the effects of erosion, but those methods are more expensive and require more maintenance. Without the project, said Bren Haase, executive director of the state coastal authority, “the alternative is unthinkable. It’s a coastal Louisiana that doesn’t exist.”