GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - It’s a complicated problem that will require a complicated solution, and the Mississippi Sound Coalition is doing what it can to help lead the way.
The coalition voted today to urge the local governments in the coalition to:
*Support a project to restore the Lower Pearl River to it's natural state
*Create a special federal management area in the Mississippi Sound
“This problem is huge and our federal government should really be paying greater attention to finding solutions instead of paying for recovery,” said Gerald Blessey, manager of the Coalition after their meeting at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport.
He said the Coalition’s goal is to stay proactive in regards to federal laws and state action in order to prevent future damage to the Mississippi Sound.
One of the major concerns is to force the Corps of Engineers “to give consideration to the impacts down here, and that’s currently not being done,” said Coalition member Ryan Bradley of the Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United. “That is a major first step.”
The Corps of Engineers is charged with preventing flooding in New Orleans, among other things.
When the Corps opened the Bonnet Carre’ Spillway last summer for 123 days to prevent that flooding, it caused serious damage to the Mississippi Sound.
However during that time, Mississippi officials were told by the Corps that it was up to them to prove that any damage to the Sound was a result of the spillway opening.
“The burden of proof should be on whoever wants to do something that would protect the Mississippi Sound,” Blessey said. “They should show they are not going to hurt it, instead of putting the burden on us to show that you are hurting us."
He believes that they along with the federal government and the Corps of Engineers are all in this fight together.
As the Commission works to prevent another event like last summer's, eyes often turned to the Corps as being a part of the problem, in more than one way.
“What you have is the New Orleans and Vicksburg sectors that are opening the spillway, but once we see those impacts in the Mississippi sound, its the Mobile sector,” Bradley said. "And those two sectors aren’t coordinating together. So that’s one area I think we can work with the corps to have them improve.”
Other goals of the Coalition are to modernize the legal structure of the Mississippi River flood management in the context of current environmental laws.
“It’s been a hundred years doing what they’ve done, which is now making us the dumping ground and killing the Mississippi Sound,” Blessey said. “Lets spend the next 5- 10- 15 years correcting those mistakes with better science and better engineering.”
The meeting also discussed the need for cooperation between local state and federal officials in Louisiana and Mississippi to find solutions.
“We’re all in this together,” Blessey said. “We can find win-win solutions. The states should not be fighting each other, they should be looking for ways to solve these problems to the benefit of everyone.”
Blessey said finding a solution will be difficult and expensive, but it can be done.
“Nobody wants to flood New Orleans," he said. "Everybody wants to see the Louisiana Marsh restored. Let’s do it in a way that doesn’t kill the Mississippi Sound.”