Thursday, February 01, 2007

The despised MR-GO

The Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet is about 1,500 feet wide and its banks are no more than 2 feet above sea level. Along part of its west side is a levee, and to the east is marsh (about 1 foot above sea level) and the wide open water of Lake Borgne. Hurricane Katrina pushed through this area with a storm surge in excess of 20 feet above sea level and an eyewall about 30 miles wide.

Pop quiz:

How much of Hurricane Katrina’s massive storm surge flowed within the MR-GO channel?

No need for you to reply, David Vitter. We already know your answer.

The Times-Picayune reports today that Mr. Vitter is pressing the Corps of Engineers to “plug the channel to block storm surge.”

“MR-GO is a hurricane highway,” he declares.

Senator Vitter obviously believes that most if not all of Katrina’s storm surge came up the MR-GO to flood St. Bernard and Orleans parishes. Clearly, he thinks putting a plug or a gate in the channel will protect us from future similar events.

Sorry, Senator. Wrong answer.

Not that we can actually fault the junior Senator from Louisiana for promoting this irrational fear of a shipping channel. It seems everybody and their mama down in da parish know that before the MR-GO was built, they never had flooding like Katrina. Therefore, everybody knows it’s the MR-GO’s fault.

The fact that they never had a hurricane anywhere near the magnitude and intensity of Katrina before is immaterial to them and their quixotic Senator.

The fact that both the Corps of Engineers and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources ran computer models and concluded otherwise does not seem to matter, either. Both agencies independently determined that the influence of the MR-GO on storm surge heights along the levees of St. Bernard and Orleans parishes was negligible.

But then again, facts are not exactly David Vitter’s strong suit.

Why just about two weeks ago, our excitable junior Senator wrote a letter to The Times-Picayune chastising the Corps of Engineers for not immediately moving to close the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet.

“The corps has the authority to begin closure now,” he wrote. “The law I passed last summer makes this perfectly clear, specifically authorizing structures to block storm surge and build wetlands.”

The Senator fails to cite the legislation he is so proud of, but my best guess is that he is thinking of P.L. 109-234. But there is no mandate to plug or build a gate in the MR-GO in this law. The only “perfectly clear” direction on the MR-GO is that Congress orders the Corps to do a study—yes, another study—to consider the impacts of closing the despised shipping channel.

There is some money for wetlands restoration, but as I’ve explained before, you just can’t realistically think you can plant enough grass out there to stop a major storm surge.

Today that same paper reports that Senator Vitter is pleased with assurances that the Corps will begin making plans to close the MR-GO in the event Congress directs the Corps to close it. The article clearly notes that Congress has not yet decided the fate of the channel.

So, Senator, what about your claims in your exasperated letter of two weeks ago? Was the authority to close the MR-GO "perfectly clear" or perfectly imaginary? I guess the biggest benefit of being a populist is you don’t have to worry about getting your facts straight.

Here’s why this concerns me:

I am no fan of the MR-GO. I have no financial interest in any business related to it, and I own no property anywhere near it. If the good people of Louisiana want it closed and Congress passes a law to de-authorize the channel, it’s no skin off my nose.

But let’s be sure we know what will happen if we plug it, fill it, or gate it. Let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that closing the MR-GO will quickly and easily make all the bad storm surges go away.

It won’t.

I’m just afraid that the MR-GO will be closed and Congress will congratulate themselves for saving Louisiana and people down in St. Bernard will rebuild their homes and once again go to sleep at night thinking they’re safe—but they won’t be.

And David Vitter is leading the way.


rickngentilly said...

wow food for thought. what a rareity these days. thank you for a post worth reading and rereading and thinking about. hey gambit and t.p. pick up on this concept.

thank you tim for throwing this on the table.

Sophmom said...

Wow is right. Great post, Tim. Especially interesting, I followed the links, back through your earlier posts, and the links in those posts. You really have been shouting it from the rooftops for a while. Thank you.

steve said...

Plugging the MR-GO will not solve all the issues, I get that. Ivor van Heerden is not 100% qualified to come up with a total civil engineering plan save the city, I get that too. Something needs to be done. Even if Ivor van Heerden is not qualifed is there a better voice? Is he half right? What do you think can be done? Can the city really be protected? Point us toward some qualified answers. I would like to see your ideas.