NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) — Southwest of Morgan City, a channel cut from the Atchafalaya River in the 1940s accidentally created a brand new delta.
No one expected it, but proponents of using the Mississippi to develop land often point to the Wax Lake Outlet.
“This is tremendous habitat,” said David Muth, a retired National Wildlife Federation worker who remains active in coastal affairs.
The proposed $2 billion sediment diversion at Mid-Barataria on the west shore south of Belle Chasse would be the state’s largest coastal restoration project, an ambitious and controversial plan to divert up to 75,000 cubic feet of river water into the swamp.
A final environmental impact study released by the US Army Corps of Engineers notes that these efforts to mimic the river’s land-building forces would produce 27 square miles of land in the project’s 30th year.
Due to future sea level rise and fall, that number would drop to 21 square miles 50 years after diversion began to divert river water and sediment into the bay.
“We’re at the two-yard line,” said Chip Kline, chair of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.
The concept of the diversion has been debated since 1984, but the final EIA represents a milestone in the effort to bring it to fruition.
“We have a lot of science on our side, we know we have supporters on our side,” said Simone Maloz, campaign manager for the 5-group coalition Restore the Mississippi River Delta. “So we need to implement projects like this and real change in Louisiana.”
However, the science also shows that there would be costs.
Dumping trillions of gallons of freshwater into the bay could wipe out bottlenose dolphins in Barataria Bay.
There would also be damage to other species, including endangered sea turtles, the EIS notes.
While some species such as alligators and crabs could benefit, the diversion could devastate existing oyster beds and the commercial fishermen who depend on them.
“Why a project that will economically harm the very communities you are trying to save?” said George Ricks, a charter boat captain who leads anti-diversion The Save Louisiana Coalition.
The plan envisages nearly $380 million in interventions, from flood control for communities downstream of the structure to assisting fishermen affected by the project.
A final decision from the Corps on whether to issue the necessary permits is expected in December.
A decision to grant permission will almost certainly trigger challenges in court.
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