Biloxi, others push back on spillway operation

The City of Biloxi is among seven south Mississippi local governments and trade groups pushing back on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ claims that it has no obligation to look for ways to avoid the shocking environmental damage caused by the recent back-to-back openings of the Bonnet Carre Spillway. 

In 2019 the spillway was opened for a record 122 days, killed off oysters and other sea life, and caused blooms of toxic algae.  The spillway is now being opened for an unprecedented third year in a row. 

In December 2019 the City and the other parties filed a federal lawsuit to force the Corps of Engineers to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, a federal law that requires government agencies to look for ways to avoid damaging natural resources and the environment.  The Corps of Engineers, along with the Mississippi River Commission, is responsible for operating the Bonnet Carre Spillway as part of flood control on the Mississippi River.

In response to the lawsuit the Corps of Engineers claims that the unprecedented frequency of operation and widespread environmental damage caused by the Bonnet Carre Spillway is “routine operations,” and the Corps has no obligation to look for ways to lessen the damage to Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. 

In a filing on Thursday, April 2, the coast local governments pushed back and asked the court to allow them to have the Corps produce facts to back up its claims of “routine operations.”

Robert Wiygul, an Ocean Springs attorney representing Biloxi and the other plaintiffs in the suit, said “Calling the kind of damage inflicted on Mississippi resources and people ‘routine operations’ defies common sense.  These local governments have stepped up to protect the people of South Mississippi when the corps and others haven’t.”

The Corps of Engineers and the Mississippi River Commission have two weeks to respond to the local governments’ request.

The other plaintiffs in the lawsuit, besides of the City of Biloxi, are Harrison County, Hancock County, the cities of D’Iberville, Waveland, Pass Christian and Diamondhead, the Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association, and Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United, Inc.