Bonnet Carre Spillway victory handed down by Federal Court

The Federal Court has ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to consult the National Marine Fisheries about the Bonnet Carre Spillway.  

A new Federal Court decision is a victory for Coast governments, fisheries and tourism industries who united in 2019 as the Mississippi Sound Coalition to restore and protect the Sound from poisoning caused by the Bonnet Carré Spillway dumping millions of gallons of polluted water into Lake Ponchartrain and Mississippi Sound. The Coalition sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Mississippi River Commission, who control the Spillway. 

U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola, Jr., ruled Jan. 18 that the Corps must consult National Marine Fisheries Service about ways to avoid future harm to fisheries habitat in the Mississippi Sound and Lake Ponchartrain caused by openings of the Bonnet Carré Spillway. 

“The Coast finally has a foot in the door through the National Marine Fisheries Service for our voices and scientific facts to be heard to prevent the death of the Mississippi Sound,” said Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich.

“We hope the Corps will look at this decision as an opportunity to protect the people of Mississippi instead of fighting them,” commented Robert Wiygul, lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

In 2019, the Corps opened the Spillway, releasing millions of gallons of “fresh” but polluted water from the Mississippi River into Lake Ponchartrain and the Mississippi Sound, causing toxic algal bloom and lower salinity that damaged habitats for oysters, blue crabs, shrimp, dolphins, sea turtles, and many other species. MDEQ closed Coast beaches. Coast seafood and tourism industries were devastated. 

The Bonnet Carré Spillway is supposed to be opened when necessary to avoid flooding New Orleans, but in 2019 the Corps failed to open the Morganza Spillway that empties west of the River into the Atchafalaya Basin, which would have reduced and possibly avoided the poisonous discharge into the Mississippi Sound.

“We are thrilled that finally the U. S. Corps of Engineers will be required to consider the tremendous damage to our Mississippi Sound from impacts of Spillway openings, ” said Harrison County Supervisor Beverly Martin. “We hope the National Marine Fisheries Service will protect our Sound and the Gulf for all our citizens. I am proud that the Board of Supervisors of Harrison County participated in the lawsuit to gain some input in Corps decisions which have so severely impacted our way of life along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

“Mississippi’s marine resources have long suffered from the Spillway’s disastrous impacts that hopefully can be mitigated with more scrutiny by the National Marine Fisheries Service and our Coalition,” said Ryan Bradley, head of Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United.

“A healthy Mississippi Sound is essential to Coast tourism,” said Linda Hornsby, Exec. Dir. of Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association. “The 2019 Spillway disaster devastated tourism and millions in tax revenue it normally generates to the State Treasury.”

The Mississippi Sound Coalition, led by Harrison County Board of Supervisors and the City of Biloxi, filed the lawsuit, along with Hancock County Board of Supervisors, Waveland, Diamondhead, Pass Christian, and D’Iberville, Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United, and Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association.

“Our next step is to offer our facts and mitigation methods to National Marine Fisheries Service for use in meetings with the Corps as directed by the Federal Court,” said Gerald Blessey, Manager of the Mississippi Sound Coalition.
See Judge’s Opinion
See the Final Judgment