Court rules Army Corps of Engineers violated law, damaged marine life in Miss. Sound
BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi ruled the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created environmental harm in the Mississippi Sound when it opened the Bonnet Carré Spillway without consulting the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The court ruled Wednesday the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (the MSA), meant to “conserve and manage the fishery resources found off the coasts of the United States.”
“Plaintiffs’ declarations have demonstrated that the Corps created an increased risk of actual, threatened, or imminent environmental harm that directly affected the Plaintiffs when it opened the Spillway without consulting the Fisheries Service,” court documents say.
The Corps must now consult with the National Marine Fisheries about damage to marine life in the Mississippi Sound caused from the opening of the Spillway before September 30 of this year.
The Corps constructed the Spillway upstream of New Orleans, meant to divert water from the Mississippi River into Lake Ponchartrain. But after entering the Lake, the water diverted by the Spillway flows into Lake Borgne and the Mississippi Sound.
Several cities, counties and businesses across the Mississippi Gulf Coast sued the Corps, claiming the more frequent, lengthier openings of the Spillway in recent years have caused significant damage to the environment and economy of the Coast.
Court documents detail the struggles of fishery and tourism businesses on the Coast, from seafood and live bait businesses to hotels.
Ryan Bradley, Executive Director of Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United, submitted two declarations to the court, detailing his inability to harvest wild oysters and the difficulties he faced caused by the relocation of red snapper.
In the first declaration, he “states that the inshore fish habitat and wild oyster reefs were ‘repeatedly decimated, in large part by the Bonnet Carré Spillway openings’ in 2011, 2016, and 2018.’”
|source: DMR||WILD CAUGHT OYSTERS||SHRIMP LANDINGS (ALL SPECIES, HEAD ON)|
|BEFORE 2019 20-YEAR AVERAGE||175,000 sacks/year (493,000 sacks landed in ‘03, ‘04)||12.3 million lbs./year|
|POST-2011 AVERAGE (BONNET CARRE SPILLWAY OPENING)||31,000 sacks/year|
|POST 2019||0 sacks/year||6.4 million lbs./year|
Court documents say these events caused Bradley to transition his seafood business to offshore reef fishing and oyster farming, and that transitioning away from the traditional harvesting methods his family had used for decades wasn’t easy.
“This is a way of life down here that is unravelling while we watch it. If we have more years of the Bonnet Carré Spillway affecting us the way it did in 2019, we will lose more fishermen, fishing families and our culture that we can never make up,” Bradley stated.
Some argued seafood wasn’t the only industry impacted; tourism was as well. Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich stressed the importance of tourism in the area and attributed the Spillway’s opening to lower sales tax revenues in the area due to algae blooms in the Sound.
The Corps argued plaintiffs “failed to identify a concrete and particularized injury, causation, and redressability,” and that the plaintiff’s injury had no connection to the Corps’ failure to consult the National Marine Fisheries Services. However, the court didn’t seem to agree.
Plaintiffs in the suit were the City of Biloxi, City of D’Iberville, City of Diamondhead, City of Pass Christian, City of Waveland, Hancock County, Harrison County, Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United, Inc., and Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association.
Want more WLOX news in your inbox? Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.
Copyright 2023 WLOX. All rights reserved.