State Seeking Lawsuit Against Corps Over MRGO

Members of the state's guiding coastal board will be asked to vote on possible litigation Tuesday that could hold the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers liable for certain damages caused by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO).

A $3 billion plan—one of the largest of its kind—to address land loss and saltwater intrusion brought about by MRGO was finalized by the Corps last year, after it missed earlier deadlines. Who should pay for the plan is at the heart of the potential lawsuit.

Louisiana's share of the plan is roughly $1 billion, but state officials believe the losses and damages are 100 percent federal.

"We don't need to be paying for other peoples' liabilities," said Garret Graves, chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA). "We need to be paying for our own unaddressed liabilities to get us ahead."

The CPRA is scheduled to consider the issue at its meeting Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. in the Galvez Building in Baton Rouge.

The agenda calls for a discussion of "potential litigation against U.S. Army Corps of Engineers" in executive session, followed by a motion and public comments.

Graves told LaPolitics this morning that it's a "rifle shot issue" that needs to be addressed sooner than later.

"The Mississippi River Gulf Outlet was designed to be a shorter route to the Gulf of Mexico, but all it did in reality was result in land loss and become a conduit for saltwater intrusion," he added.

While MRGO gained notoriety with the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the potential litigation to be discussed Tuesday is unrelated to those earlier arguments and cases.

The state managed to close off the channel after the historic hurricane and a rock dike was constructed soon after to impede saltwater intrusion.

But 600,000 acres of land have still been lost around MRGO and the channel has silted up, causing problems in nearby areas.

Graves said the Corps’ $3 billion restoration plan has been at a “standstill” due to the disagreement over the cost share. The state, however, has already spent more than $100 million of its own money to get some of the priority projects rolling, like hydrologic barriers that are considered critical.

So far, all of the legal work on the potential litigation has been carried out in-house by the CPRA in concert with the attorney general’s office.

“But based on what the CPRA decides,” said Graves, “we do expect to bring in outside counsel.”

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