SOS Asks Army Corps for Answers on Coast Spillway Operation

Gulfport, Miss. (Sun Herald) – Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann is asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for an immediate review of the operating manuals and use of the Bonnet Carré Spillway and Morganza Floodway to deal with flooding on the Mississippi River.

The Corps regulates when the Bonnet Carré opens to prevent the Mississippi River flooding in New Orleans. The spillway was opened for 44 days from February until April and again on May 10. It remains open and the fresh water continues to flow.

This is the first time it was opened twice in one year, and has brought “devastating ecological damage to oyster reefs, fisheries and marine life,” Hosemann said Thursday.

The blue-green algal bloom that followed the fresh water intrusion into the Mississippi Sound closed every beach along the Coast during the peak of the tourist season. It also killed dolphins, oysters and other marine life.

With Tropical Storm Barry threatening a foot of additional rain over the area, Hosemann asked in his letter why the Morganza Floodway was not opened this year and whether the Corps would support flexibility in the law regarding the operation.

He posed 14 additional questions — and asked for answers in 30 days.

The Army Corps announced in May it would open the Morganza Spillway in Louisiana for only the third time in 65 years and funnel part of the river’s flow into the Atchafalaya Basin, which is freshwater. The spillway never was opened.

Hosemann said he has met with Maj. Gen. Richard Kaiser, commander of the Army Corps in Vicksburg and president of the Mississippi River Commission. The issue with the Morganza has to do with one sentence of statutory regulations written 90 years ago, he said, that say the spillway won’t open until 1.5 million cubic feet go by.

It had reached just shy of that level this spring, he said, and had the Morganza been opened as scheduled, the river level would be lower now before the tropical storm hits.

He acknowledged that bureaucracy moves too slowly to get the problem solved in time for this weekend’s tropical storm. But he said it’s imperative the issue is resolved so this doesn’t happen to the Mississippi Coast again.

Asked why nothing was done during the last 5 years when the Bonnet Carre was open repeatedly, Hoseman said, “”Maybe nobody ever asked. But I’m going to.”

Hosemann’s letter follows a May 28 meeting in Biloxi attended by most of the Coast’s 12 mayors to join forces and look for help. Several mayors attended Thursday’s press conference in Gulfport.

Attorney General Jim Hood threatened last month he will sue the Army Corps over environmental damages as a “last resort.”

Hosemann said Mississippi needs more information from the Army Corps to determine the cause and extent of the damage in the Mississippi Sound to determine what should be the next steps should be.

Read Original Story