The Real Antique – The Corps of Engineers
The Corps of Engineers is insisting that the Industrial Canal Lock needs replacing because it’s an antique. The real antique however, is the Corps’ way of thinking and doing business. The lock project is a relic of 19th and 20th century thinking. It is a piece of the so-called “Inner Harbor” complex – a project conceived around 1900 to move port facilities off the riverfront and into inland canals where private industry could lease space. The Industrial Canal was the first component of this project. Other components of this expansive plan included the fruitless industrial development in New Orleans East, the failed Violet Canal and lock in St. Bernard Parish, and the infamous Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet.
The Inner Harbor plan has been a complete failure. In terms of social, economic, and environmental costs, the record is clear: The Inner Harbor has brought nothing but hardship for the areas below the Industrial Canal. The Industrial Canal and MR-GO have flooded the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard multiple times, decimating the community’s housing stock, killing its residents, destroying its natural ecosystems, and stymieing the economic development this area has long sought. The MR-GO is recognized across the nation as a grievous allocation of federal resources and an environmental and humanitarian disaster. The new lock will not erase this tragic legacy; it merely represents a continuation of it.
The new lock was authorized by the same piece of legislation that brought us the MR-GO, back in 1956. Due to its economic shortcomings and its threat to the wetlands, Congress has deauthorized the MR-GO. The flow of commerce is shifting back to the riverfront. In fact, the Port of New Orleans abandoned its master plan for the Inner Harbor, called Centroport, in the 1980s. The closure of the MR-GO is the nail in the coffin of the Inner Harbor experiment. Asking for $1.3 billion in taxpayer money in a development scheme that has proved devastating is absolutely disgraceful. It is time to turn the page and invest in innovative technologies that can make our riverfront facilities the best in the world. This trend is clear to most observers, but the Corps refuses to read the writing on the wall.
New Orleanians have long borne the brunt of the “unforeseen impacts” of the Inner Harbor development. For years, we’ve been cleaning up messes that the Corps has created. Now, the Corps demands that the community suffer these impacts again: traffic jams, bridge closings, clamorous noise, toxic sediments in our fragile wetlands, potential levee problems, and any number of hazards that moving this much earth is bound to create – and the Corps is helpless to predict. We need 21st century flood protection and coastal restoration, not a continuation of 20th century injustices. For these reasons, and many more, the Industrial Canal Lock Replacement project should be deauthorized.