Long road still lies ahead for Mississippi Sound Coalition in Bonnet Carré Spillway fight

The battle to prevent the opening of the Bonnet Carré Spillway and destroying our natural habitat has been going on since the big diversion in 2019.
Published: Jan. 25, 2023 at 8:47 PM CST
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - The battle to prevent the opening of the Bonnet Carré Spillway and destroying our natural habitat has been going on since the big diversion in 2019.

Since then, the Mississippi Sound Coalition has been doggedly working the system to its favor.

Wednesday was the first day the Mississippi Sound Coalition has met since its huge federal court victory last week that will change the way decisions are made to open the Bonnet Carré Spillway.

With the federal court ruling, it’s finally on the books that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has to consider the harm that a spillway opening will do to marine nurseries - and that requires consultation with fishery experts.

“And what’s important about that process is that it gets out in public all the impacts on our fisheries and all the ways that the Corps can do things to prevent those impacts,” said Coalition lead counsel Robert Wiygul.

But, it’s not yet time to pop the cork on the champagne bottle. The work is not over.

In fact, it’s getting bigger.

“This is a lifetime journey,” said Coalition manager Gerald Blessey. “I mean the threat here is not just to our three Coast counties. It’s to all of the heartland of America and, therefore, all of America.”

In the mind of Blessey and coalition members, there is no such thing as freshwater diversion. It’s polluted water diversion. And the problems that start upstream are manmade problems.

“Polluting the Gulf of Mexico - the Mississippi Sound - is the canary in the coal mine,” Blessey said. “And this pollution has got to stop or else the seafood will be dead all over our coastline.”

The big takeaway at Wednesday’s meeting is that the ruling will only be as strong as the political will to make it happen.

So, next on the agenda: make the Coalition bigger, including state and federal leaders buying into the program.

“I believe this is going to require congressional intervention and assistance,” said Dr. Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies. “Because two federal agencies need to recognize the importance of our state, it’s resources and it’s way of life, which has probably not been recognized in the past.”

The consultations between the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association and the Corps of Engineers is to be completed by September.

Wiygul went on to say that although the Corps could appeal the federal court decision, it hasn’t happened yet.

Louisiana Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser has been a long-time supporter of the Mississippi Sound Coalition’s effort.

He could not attend the meeting on Wednesday but sent this statement to WLOX:

“I’m glad to see Mississippi is standing up for the fisheries, seafood industry and the valuable estuaries that these polluted waters will destroy. I only wish Louisiana would do the same.”

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