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Court rules opening Bonnet Carre...

Court rules opening Bonnet Carre Spillway inflicted environmental harm in Mississippi Sound

By: Sarah Ulmer - January 20, 2023

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must now consult with National Marine Fisheries to assess impact on marine life.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been found in violation of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA).

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi has ruled the Corps of Engineers has inflicted environmental harm within the Mississippi Sound after opening the Bonnet Carre Spillway, most recently in 2019.

The opening of the Spillway was done without consulting with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The Bonnet Carre Spillway is located upstream of New Orleans. The intent of the spillway is to divert water from the Mississippi River into Lake Pontchartrain. After the water has entered the Lake, it is also sent to Lake Borgne and the Mississippi Sound.  

The Plaintiffs in the case include the cities of Biloxi, D’Iberville, Diamondhead, Pass Christian and Waveland along with Hancock and Harrison counties. The Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United, Inc. and Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association were also named plaintiffs. They claimed that when the Corps opened the spillway it created an increased risk of actual, threatened and imminent environmental harm that directly impacted the plaintiffs.

Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson is a Coast native. He saw firsthand the effects the opening of the spillway had in South Mississippi.

Secretary of State Michael Watson

“I’m glad the plaintiffs were able to convince the federal district court the U.S. Corps of Engineers should seek advice on any potential environmental damage to the Coast’s interest which may be caused by its decisions when opening the Bonnet Carre Spillway,” Secretary Watson said. “We all saw the damage done by the Corps’ actions. Perhaps they’ll act in a more responsible manner moving forward.”

These openings, which have become longer and more frequent over the years, have caused significant damage to the environment and economy of the Coast, according to the suit.

The spillway openings have particularly impacted the harvesting of oysters and relocation of red snapper. Declarations outlining these issues have been filed by Ryan Bradley, Executive Director of Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United. He says in the two declarations that the oyster populations and habitats were repeatedly harmed after the spillway openings in 2011, 2016 and 2018. These issues have greatly impacted businesses and forced them to transition away from traditional harvesting methods.

The Corps initially argued that 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.

The ruling against the Corps orders them to consult with the National Marine Fisheries to determine the impact and harm caused to marine life in the Mississippi Sound. Those discussions are to be completed before September 30th.

About the Author(s)
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Sarah Ulmer

Sarah is a Mississippi native, born and raised in Madison. She is a graduate of Mississippi State University, where she studied Communications, with an emphasis in Broadcasting and Journalism. Sarah’s experience spans multiple mediums, including extensive videography with both at home and overseas, broadcasting daily news, and hosting a live radio show. In 2017, Sarah became a member of the Capitol Press Corp in Mississippi and has faithfully covered the decisions being made by leaders on some of the most important issues facing our state.