Industry News

Court: Feds Must Pay for Louisiana’s $3 Billion Ecosystem Restoration

A U.S. District Court judge ruled on 27 August 2015 that the State of Louisiana should not be required to pay approximately $1 billion of an estimated $3 billion federal ecosystem restoration project intended to provide a critical storm buffer to New Orleans area residents, Attorney General James D. “Buddy” Caldwell announced.

Judge Lance M. Africk held in a decision issued today that the federal government is responsible for carrying out the restoration of the ecosystem surrounding the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (“MRGO”).

"Ten years after Hurricane Katrina vital ecosystem restoration remains incomplete," Africk wrote. "Rather than abide by the clear intent of Congress and begin immediate implementation of a plan to restore that which the corps helped destroy, defendants arbitrarily and capriciously misconstrued their clear mandate to restore an ecosystem ravaged by the MRGO."

Attorney General Caldwell filed suit in October 2014 on behalf of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Board and the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority asking the Court to ensure that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers carry out and fund the MRGO Ecosystem Restoration Project at full federal expense, as Congress had intended.

“We are very pleased with the Court’s decision in this matter, which will provide substantial benefits to coastal Louisiana and will protect important state taxpayer dollars,” Attorney General Caldwell said. “With this ruling, I am confident the project will be completed to protect our state’s fragile ecosystem, which is essential for the safety and well-being of Louisiana residents.”

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita ravaged the Louisiana Gulf Coast, Congress directed the Corps to close the MRGO channel that it completed in 1965, and to restore the surrounding ecosystem that was damaged by the creation and poor maintenance of the channel. As part of the 2007 Water Resource Development Act, Congress ordered that federal funding be used to carry out its directive.

In 2009, the MRGO channel was closed; however, the Corps never undertook the mandatory ecosystem restoration, claiming that Louisiana had an obligation to foot approximately $1 billion of the estimated $3 billion project.

The judge’s decision stated that: “the only reasonable interpretation of Congress’s intent is that the MRGO closure and ecosystem restoration project shall be implemented at full federal expense.”

The ruling is likely to be appealed by the U.S. Justice Department and the Corps.

A copy of the order is available here

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