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Federal court rules Bonnet Carré Spillway opening caused harm to Mississippi Sound

Photo from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

A federal court has ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and harmed the Mississippi Sound upon opening the Bonnet Carré Spillway.

U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola, Jr., ordered the Corps to 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,” Biloxi Mayor Andrew Gilich said.

In 2019, the Corps opened the Spillway, releasing millions of gallons of water from the Mississippi River into Lake Ponchartrain and the Mississippi Sound, causing toxic algal bloom and lower salinity that damaged habitats for numerous aquatic species.

As a result, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality had to close coastal beaches and the region’s seafood and tourism industries were negatively affected.

The Bonnet Carré Spillway was intended to be opened only when necessary to avoid flooding in New Orleans. However, 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,” Harrison County Supervisor Beverly Martin said. “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.”

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, D’Iberville, Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United, and the Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association.

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