The Hancock County Board of Supervisors on Monday heard a presentation from George Cavignac, CEO of the Gulf Coast Resource Coalition about new Mississippi River diversions, specifically Louisiana's proposed Mid-Breton Large-Scale Mississippi River Diversion project.
Cavignac said that the coalition is a "nonprofit organization advocating for and protecting the entire Gulf Coast region's businesses, resources, and communities."
Cavignac said that the State of Louisiana's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) filed permit application WQC 190227-01 with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for construction of the diversion project. It is proposed for construction in Breton Sound in Plaquemines Parish, LA near Mississippi River Mile 68 (Wills Point) and extending into the Mid-Breton Sound Basin.
Cavignac touched on the effects of the 2019 Bonnet Carre` Spillway, which was opened for 123 days, dumping about "ten trillion gallons of water."
"It totally freshened the Mississippi Sound all the way across, caused extreme harm to Mississippi fisheries, including total mortality in oyster crops," he said. "It caused extreme negative economic damage to Mississippi's coastal communities and hundreds of marine mammal deaths."
Cavignac said that the Bonnet Carre` Spillway is located about 65 miles away from Bay St. Louis and the proposed project at Wills Point is about 25 to open water.
The project is a "75,000 cubic feet per second structure capable of releasing Mississippi River water in the basin."
"To put that (75,000 cfs) in perspective, that's over 33 million gallons per minute that will be sent to the basin from this structure," Cavignac said.
According to the permit filed with the Corps of Engineers, the structure will "operate at a minimum base flow of 5,000 cfs non-stop; varying levels of operation when the MS River gage at Belle Chasse reaches 450,000 cfs (averaging 30,000-50,000 cfs per CPRA public statements); maximum discharge would be 75,000 cfs when the Belle Chasse gauge is at 1,000,000 cfs."
If the proposed structure had operated at full 75,000 cfs for more than 200 days, 9.74 trillion gallons of Mississippi River water would have been released into Breton Basin, Cavignac said.
He said that the permitting process has been "fast-tracked."
"Last year, under federal regulations, the Louisiana CPRA entered into a $1.1 million agreement with the Corps of Engineers to expedite the permitting process," Cavignac said. "The LA CPRA and the environmental groups that support the diversion projects very publicly support the important environmental review process during the permitting process."
Last year in Congress, Cavignac said, a paragraph was added to a budget amendment on the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, right before passage.
"That single paragraph forced the issuance of a Marine Mammal Protection Act review waiver," Cavignac said. "And the paragraph ended with, 'you'll issue this permit with no rule making, permit, determination, or other condition or limitation.'''
This year, the last state environmental review piece of the permit, "which could save us all," is the "essential fish habitat review," Cavignac said.
He added that LA Congressman Garret Graves added an amendment to HR 3697, Section 409.
"If passed, this will remove the essential fish habitat environmental review for the project during the permitting process," Cavignac said.
He said that even though this is going on in Louisiana, "Mississippi needs to have a seat at the table."
Cavignac presented a letter from the National Marine Fisheries Service to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.
"This project will displace marine fishery species from currently productive habitats to less supportive habitats, reduce marine fishery productivity, convert essential fish habitat to areas no longer supportive of some federally managed marine fishery species or their prey items, render wetlands impacted by diversions more susceptible to erosion from storms, degrade water quality, and cause socio-economic hardship to those involved in the commercial and recreational fishing industries," the letter states.
Board President Blaine LaFontaine said that "our single most largest threat to the future of our coastal economy is probably the Mississippi River."
The board on Monday approved three resolutions: "A cooperative endeavor agreement between Hancock County and the Gulf Coast Resource Coalition, Inc.; a resolution to respectfully request the congressional delegation of the state of Mississippi to take immediate and ardent legislative action to repeal Section 20201, Title II, of Public Law 115-123, and to defeat Section 409, HR 3697, currently in the legislative process of the 116th Congress; and a resolution to affirm the Hancock County Board of Supervisors' adamant opposition to Louisiana's proposed Mid-Breton Basin Large-Scale Mississippi River Diversion Project for the economic and ecological protection of coastal Mississippi and the benefit of the state economy as a whole, and respectfully request that the governor of the state of Mississippi take all immediate and ardent administrative steps necessary and available to oppose the issuance of a federal permit for and construction of the aforementioned project."
Read copies of the full resolutions at www.seacoastecho.com.
Learn more about Gulf Coast Resource Coalition at www.gulfcoastresource.org.