Loyola University’s environmental communication program recently released an hour long documentary on the now-defunct Mississippi River Gulf Outlet. The documentary included extensive interviews with Port of New Orleans and US Army Corps of Engineers officials recorded both before and after Katrina. The documentary was generally well done, with Bob Marshall of The Lens acting as narrator. The interviews with the navigation officials were, to this viewer, by far the most interesting aspect of the documentary. Gary LaGrange and Corps officials make it reasonably clear in their pre-Katrina interviews that they are playing hardball on the MRGO, and refusing to seriously consider its closure until the IHNC Lock Replacement project was funded and moving forward. This strategy amounted to blackmail, and as was their strategy for years, threatened to pit communities in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes against each other by clinging to their dream of a deepwater Inner Harbor, a dream that died along with hundred of people in 1965 when Hurricane Betsy revealed the flooding risk brought on by the one-two punch of the Inner Harbor and the MRGO. The documentary will be aired on WYES (channel 12) on the evening of October 20th. The producers of the film, including Loyola professor Bob Thomas, should be commended for the public service they’ve delivered with this excellent documentary. That being said, the short format of the film meant that the myriad issues surrounding the IHNC Lock project were not adequately delved into, and the uninformed viewer may be led into confusion about the nature of the project and its history with local communities. Considering the galling interviews with Port and USACE officials, a real opportunity existed to speak to the ongoing INHC lock dispute, which unlike the MRGO project, is still technically authorized, on the books, and will surely be resurrected by Port officials despite multiple defeats in court.
It would appear that the Corps of Engineers is finally realizing that the Deep Draft option for the IHNC lock replacement project has been dead for over half a century. Now the discussion seems to be shifting to shallower-draft options. Of course, the local communities impacted by ANY lock replacement have to learn about this through the local press, rather than through regular engagement by the Corps and/or their client, the Port of New Orleans.
Article here and below. Repost from Nola.com article by Bruce Alpert.
WASHINGTON — One of Metro New Orleans largest federal projects — the planned $1.3-billion Inner Harbor Navigational Lock Replacement — is on hold due to a combination of legal and cost impediments.
A 2011 stop-work order by U.S. District Court Judge Eldon Fallon remains in effect, but even without the court ruling, significant funding for the project isn’t available.
Corps lock funding is being used almost exclusively to complete the Olmsted Lock Project, 30 miles west of Paducah, Ky. It is now projected to cost $3.1 billion, twice the estimates of just two years ago. Completion is now scheduled for 2020.
Gary LaGrange, president and CEO of the Port of New Orleans, said it now appears significant funding for the New Orleans lock replacement won’t be available until 2028. The corps, however, has allocated about $10 million to upgrade the existing lock, built in 1921, while officials examine a shallower-draft alternative for the original design calling for a deep-draft lock.
LaGrange said the shallower draft alternative could shave $300 million to $400 million from the project’s cost. It also could ease some objections from neighborhood and environmental groups that successfully sought the stop-work order from Fallon.
In his 2011 ruling, Fallon said the project can’t go forward until it completes a second environmental impact statement, addressing the effects of closing the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet on the plan.
Fallon said the corps failed to adequately consider that closure of the MR-GO may have eliminated the need for the lock to be deep enough to handle deep-draft vessels.
“On its face this seems to be the proverbial bridge to nowhere; namely, constructing a deep-draft lock which will never be used by deep-draft traffic,” Fallon said in his 2011 ruling.
Corps officials declined to comment on the status of the project.
“Due to pending litigation, we are prohibited from spending any funds or doing any work,” the corps said in a statement.
The lock project has enjoyed strong support from the Louisiana congressional delegation.
But currently, there’s no other lock replacement funding available with the Olmsted lock project sapping up all the available lock funding from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. And the elimination of so-called congressional earmarks, which allowed members to designate funding for specific projects in their states, means that the determination of project priority rests primarily with the corps.
The corps, as instructed by Judge Fallon, has reviewed whether the closing of Mr. Go means that the large ocean-going ships that would need a deep-draft lock are no longer likely to use the replacement lock.
The corps’ tentative conclusion is that a shallower draft alternative would meet the needs of post MR-GO ship traffic.
Follow the link below for a special Newsweek issue on future visions for New Orleans – including some re-imagining of the Industrial Canal and Bayou Bienvenue as a “Third City Park.”
The Times-Picayune reported this week that the City Council approved a number of recommendations to the city planning commission. While we can’t speak to the value of all of their recommendations, the fact that their language on the Industrial Canal was unanimously approved is encouraging:
” ‘Disregarding’ the Industrial Canal lock project and designating the nearby land on both sides of the canal as green space, not industrial.”
A refreshing post from former state of Louisiana wetlands ecologist Len Bahr on his proposal to have the lock replacement double as a sediment diversion. http://lacoastpost.com/blog/?p=21154 . Join the discussion on his blog!
WASHINGTON — The much-delayed Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Lock Replacement Project, which received no financing in the 2010 federal budget, would also be denied money in 2011 if President Barack Obama’s proposal is adopted by Congress.
Neighborhood opponents of the project, who say hurricane protection, restoration and continued redevelopment after Hurricane Katrina should be the priority for scarce federal dollars, hailed the president’s decision this week not to request spending for the project, which has received about $100 million to date.
But members of the Louisiana congressional delegation, who call the $1.3 billion lock replacement an important element for port development and jobs, vowed to add financing during budget deliberations for the 2011 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
“Right now, the priority should be in getting people back to the area (in the Lower 9th Ward) and not moving on a project until the people have returned and can give their input,” said Ward McClendon, who is trying to develop a community center in the Holy Cross neighborhood, which would be most affected by the massive lock replacement project.
Supporters of the project say it is nothing new for the lock project to be left out of presidential budget proposals. Most years, Congress has added a least some money to keep the project moving forward, albeit slowly and far short of what is needed to begin construction.
“It is unfortunate that this administration has not yet grasped the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal lock’s significance and has left funding for it out of next year’s budget,” Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said. “This project is critical to Louisiana’s economy, the Port of New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast. I am committed to working with other members of the Appropriations Committee to fund the much-needed repair work on the existing lock and continue to focus on the long-term goal of replacing the lock’s outdated and deteriorating structure.”
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said the “Inner Harbor Navigation Canal is a key component of our local infrastructure and economic development, and I will continue to work with the rest of the Louisiana delegation to help advocate for the canal’s completion.”
Landrieu has said the project was left out of the 2010 budget, because it had been subject to a federal court injunction requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to prepare a more detailed environmental impact statement that was not lifted until very late in the budget process.
The corps was able to use money left over from previous spending bills to sign a design contract for the project. Corps officials estimated that the agency has the capability to spend as much as $13 million in 2011, including required demolition work of a Coast Guard building and other facilities that must take place before construction can begin.
Opponents are preparing a new legal challenge to the project. A Jan. 19 filing in New Orleans federal District Court on behalf of the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, the Gulf Restoration Network, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Sierra Club and Citizens against Widening the Industrial Canal, states that because the lock-replacement project involves filling wetlands, the government must give careful consideration to the “least environmentally harmful alternative.”
“Despite the court’s instructions to the corps to reconsider the Industrial Canal lock replacement project, the corps has again failed to take a hard look at the project as a whole, including reasonable alternatives,” according to the notice of intended legal action.
According to the corps, the current lock, built in 1921, is too small to accommodate modern vessels. The planned replacement lock will provide a nearly three-fold increase in capacity, easing transport through this high-traffic waterway, according to a corps statement.
The new lock, first authorized by Congress in 1956, is slated to be built north of Claiborne Avenue near the Galvez Wharf. According to the corps, the project’s plan to dredge large amounts of sediment could provide material for levee construction and marsh restoration, with benefits for hurricane protection and the environment.
This letter was printed in the Times-Picayune on December 17th, 2009.
Lock Design Outdated
Re: “New lock will benefit the neighborhood,” Your Opinions, Nov. 27.
Raymond Butler of the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association claimed that the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Lock lock project is critical for the inland barge industry. However, he fails to mention that the Army corps lock design is out of scale with the needs of the barge industry and decades out of date.
The corps’ lock design is a deep-draft relic of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet era when the port was courting container-shipping businesses for the Inner Harbor. The port scrapped this plan 25 years ago.
With the MR-GO closed and the IHNC’s deep-draft clients relocating, the current design makes no sense! It’s completely out of step with regional economic trends. Further, damage to the adjacent neighborhoods and ecosystems will be immense if this project moves forward.
Gov. Bobby Jindal should request an independent scientific review of the project. The corps should recommend the project for deauthorization in Congress.
The port needs to re-envision the IHNC as a shallow-draft waterway and recognize that deep shipping channels in the heart of the city are no longer viable.
Most importantly, local residents deserve a voice in shaping the future of this century-old waterway that has underperformed economically and has often brought storm surge and suffering.