The New Orleans Times Picayune posted a story to their web site on July 3, 2007 at 7:45 PM stating that the Corps of Engineers has formally recommended to Congress that the Mississippi River – Gulf Outlet (“MR-GO”) be closed. MR-GO is a 60 mile long shipping channel running from the Louisiana coast to the Industrial Canal in New Orleans. Construction on MR-GO started in 1958 and was completed in 1968. The canal was designed to be 36 feet deep and 500 feet wide.
Residents of St. Bernard Parish, which experienced severe flooding during Hurricane Katrina, have referred to MR-GO as the “hurricane highway.” The Corps has maintained that MR-GO had minimal impact on storm surge during Katrina. The Corps has, however, acknowledged the damage that MR-GO has done to the surrounding coastal wetlands. The Corps suggests that closing the channel with a dam will reduce salt water intrusion and slow coastal wetland loss.
The Corps will transmit its formal recommendation to Congress in December. If Congress authorizes closure, the closure will come in the form of a 950 foot long dam at Bayou La Loutre. The dam will rise 5 feet above the prevailing water level which is not high enough to prevent hurricane storm surge from entering the waterway. The dam will take about six months to complete once construction begins.
The Corps rejected the alternative proposal to fill in the 37 mile inland portion of the ship channel because the cost would have been $2.8 billion and take 44 years to complete.
Here is another example of a Corps project that benefited national economic interests in this case related to shipping and international commerce. The consequence of the ship channel was the loss of coastal wetlands over a 40-50 year history since construction began and the channel opened. The nation as a whole benefited from the project while a second much more local group did not directly benefit from the channel and has never been adequately compensated for their losses. When large public works projects are built, when and how should the economic consequences of the project require compensation? Should this compensation be a larger part of the budget for every public works project? Should the broader economic consequences of such projects be measured and compensation paid beyond the traditional expropriation payment for the direct acquisition of land?