Comparing environmental and economic impact from the Bonnet Carre’ Spillway openings to the 2010 BP oil spill, Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Mississippi River Commission (MRC) alleging millions of dollars in damages to coastal Mississippi.
Army Corps spokesman Ricky Boyett said the Corps does not comment on litigation. The Corps has 60 days to respond to the litigation.
The lawsuit filed last month alleges the Corps violated federal law by opening the spillway in Norco for extended periods of time without assessing its impact on South Mississippi and not opening the alternative Morganza Floodway to relieve flooding. The suit does not seek monetary damages, but it does call for a temporary injunction to require the Corps to first consult with coastal governments on future openings.
South Mississippi cities, counties and organizations filed the federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Gulfport, Miss. The cities of Biloxi, D’iberville and Waveland, and Harrison and Hancock counties, the Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association, and Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United are named in the suit.
They argue the Corps violated federal law with more frequent openings that posed a “catastrophic event” to the region that killed wildlife, lowered salinity levels and spread potentially toxic algae blooms that restricted access to beaches and vacation locations. They also maintain devastating losses in fisheries.
Hosemann also wants an updated Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) reflecting the impact of polluted river water on the Mississippi Sound, which he contends has not been done in earlier studies.
In September, the U.S. Department of Commerce declared a federal fisheries disaster in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana over the Gulf of Mexico being flooded with fresh water from the spillway’s prolonged opening. The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources estimated spillway openings cost fisheries more than $160 million.
In 2019, the Bonnet Carre’ Spillway made history with two openings in the same year. It also marked the first time it was opened in two consecutive years. The waterway has been opened 14 times since it was built in the 1930s.
The Morganza has been opened twice in its history since being completed in 1954.
Mississippi officials say they asked that the Morganza Spillway be opened in 2019, but the Corps maintained the water didn’t reach the 1.5 million cubic-foot-per-second trigger.
In the lawsuit, Mississippi officials also contend increasing rainfall from warmer temperatures will likely cause more frequent openings, warranting the EIS update.