Mayors from all along the Mississippi Gulf Coast met in an emergency session in Biloxi on Tuesday to discuss the ongoing damage the Coast's sea life and economy are suffering from the Bonnet Carre Spillway opening.
"The Coast is being devastated as we speak from the intrusion of freshwater," Waveland Mayor Mike Smith said after the meeting Tuesday. "Hancock County -- Waveland in particular -- we're the first in line on the Coast to be affected."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway for the second time this year on May 10 in order to reduce the risk of flooding in New Orleans and surrounding communities. The Corps had previously kept open for 44 days between February and April. It marked the first time in history the spillway had been opened twice in the same year due to the impact of the freshwater entering the Lake Pontchartrain basin and the Mississippi Sound.
The mayoral contingent met on Tuesday at the request of Biloxi Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gillich, who assembled a panel of experts to explain the gravity of the situation. One of those panelists, Smith said, was Dr. Moby Solangi, executive director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) in Gulfport.
"Listening to him scared me to death for our Coastal Economy," Smith said. "It's having a dramatic effect on our marine life," Smith said. "I think there's 92 dolphins, as of today, that have died from the intrusion of the freshwater, and there are a lot of endangered species, like the Kemp's Ridley turtles, that are in dying. The shrimp are a lot smaller than they usually are at this time of the year. The oysters are down already about 35 percent from last year.
"Once the egg larvae from the blue crabs and shrimp are gone, that's it, and the oysters can't go anywhere."
Not only the marine life is being damaged, Smith said, because a great portion of the Coast's economy is based on the seafood industry, particularly oyster harvesters and shrimpers who live and work in Hancock County.
"I've heard there are a lot of businesses that may not even exist after this," Smith said.
The mayors on Tuesday formed a panel that will meet frequently to work on solutions to the problem, including a possible trip to Washington, D.C. to speak directly to the nation's legislators.
There was no time frame for action, Smith said, but "it should be very, very soon."