Court has mixed ruling on spillway issue

Biloxi and other local governments can proceed with claims that opening Bonnet Carré harms fisheries habitats, but a federal court in Gulfport says it has no authority to compel a new Environmental Impact Statement to determine damages from the openings.

“Without doubt, there have been recent, more frequent openings of the Bonnet Carré Spillway,” wrote U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. in a ruling issued Monday. “Fresh water intrusion causes decreased salinity levels and results in adverse consequences to the Mississippi Sound and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. However, federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. . . . [T]he Court does not have authority to intervene and require the Corps to prepare a Supplemental EIS at this time. . . . The plaintiffs’ Magnuson-Stevens Act claims [for protection of fisheries habitat] against the United States Army Corp of Engineers shall remain pending.”

The suit was brought by local governments, fishermen and tourism businesses damaged by more frequent and lengthier openings of the Bonnet Carré Spillway element of the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project. Harrison and Hancock counties, the cities of Biloxi, D’Iberville, Waveland, Diamondhead, and Pass Christian, and the Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association and Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United, Inc. filed the lawsuit in late 2019 after the opening of the Bonnet Carré Spillway caused the devastating algal bloom in the Mississippi Sound.

Plaintiffs assert that the Corps and the MRC failed to provide the public with full information on the damage caused by operation of the Bonnet Carre Spillway, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

Said Robert Wiygul, lead counsel for plaintiffs: “We’re considering options after the Court’s order.  In the meantime, the Corps should remember that it’s never the wrong time to do the right thing.  The Corps should respect the citizens of the coast and prepare a full Environmental Impact Statement.  Meanwhile, we will pursue our claim that the actions of the Federal Defendants violate their duty to avoid harm to fisheries habitat.”
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