Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann announced Monday that his office has filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Mississippi River Commission.
The basis for the suit is the repeated opening of the Bonnet Carré Spillway and failure to make use of the Morganza Spillway as a flood control measure. It is the second lawsuit filed in less than a week for similar flood control issues.
Hosemann filed the suit on behalf of the citizens on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and all people in Mississippi, alleging an illegal release of water into the Mississippi Sound.
“As State Land Commissioner and trustee of the Public Trust Lands, it is my duty to protect Mississippi’s land, its water and its resources,” Hosemann said in a statement. “The infiltration of freshwater into the Mississippi Sound as a result of solely opening the Bonnet Carré caused devastating effects across the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In addition, this lawsuit does not address the monetary loss to the State and the Coast. This could be addressed in future litigation.”
The allegations in the complaint stem from the unprecedented ecological and economic devastation on the Mississippi Sound as a result of the diversion of freshwater from the Mississippi River into the Sound from the repeated opening of the Bonnet Carré Spillway this year.
The lawsuit specifically addresses the request for a temporary injunction to order the USACE to operate the Bonnet Carré Spillway in conjunction with the Morganza Spillway and to mitigate damage to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
The lawsuit further alleges the action was taken without the benefit of an up-to-date environmental impact statement, giving no consideration of the environmental impact to the Mississippi Sound and Mississippi’s Public Trust Tidelands. As part of the relief sought, Mississippi has asked the court to compel the defendants to perform a supplemental environmental-impact statement and to use the Morganza Spillway to mitigate the freshwater inundation of the Mississippi Sound in the future.
In July, Hosemann asked the USACE and the MRC to conduct an immediate study of the operating manuals and procedures for both the Morganza Floodway and the Bonnet Carré Spillway and to include as part of the study, the ecological effects and economic impacts of freshwater intrusion into the Mississippi Sound as a result of the current operating procedures.
In August, Hosemann requested additional modeling of the opening of the Morganza Floodway in varying amounts and later in the month testified before the Mississippi River Commission on the annual low-water inspection trip in Vicksburg where he reiterated all of these requests. Additionally, Hosemann and the Department of Marine Resources requested an environmental impact study.
The Bonnet Carré Spillway has been opened five times since 2011 and was opened twice this year for a total of 123 days, while the Morganza Floodway has been opened twice – in 1973 and 2011. The freshwater intrusion into the Mississippi Sound from the Bonnet Carré Spillway openings negatively impacted Mississippi’s oyster, shrimp, blue crab and finfish harvests, and caused devastating losses to commercial fisherman, charter boat operators and the tourism industry, Hosemann said.
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