|Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO): Issues for Congress|
Carter, N.T.; Stern, C.V. (2006). Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO): Issues for Congress. CRS Report for Congress. [S.n.]: [s.l.]. 14 pp.
Part of: CRS Report for Congress. Congressional Research Service - The Library of Congress, more
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The Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO, or Outlet) is an element in the navigation network of the Mississippi River that connects the Gulf of Mexico to navigation facilities in central New Orleans. The MRGO, which was constructedby the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) in the 1960s, is a 76-mile man-made, deepdraft navigation channel built to expedite travel; it is 40 miles shorter than traveling the Mississippi River between the Gulf and New Orleans. Interest in whether, and how, to decommission the congressionally authorized MRGO increased in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.The MRGO engendered controversy prior to its construction and continues to be the subject of debate. Most recently, some stakeholders are pressing Congress to close the Outlet; they argue that its current economic benefits are exceeded by its costs, especially when the costs include its role in both the loss of coastal wetlandsand potential augmentation of hurricane damage in St. Bernard and Orleans Parishes. Since Hurricane Katrina, there has been little opposition to closing the MRGO. For the most part, MRGO navigation supporters take the position that, if Congress deauthorizes MRGO for deep-draft navigation, federal funding should be providedto mitigate the economic impact to the deep-draft businesses that used the Outlet. Although recent scientific studies indicate that only a portion of the Outlet contributed to Hurricane Katrina’s flooding of New Orleans, these studies also concluded that the Outlet could increase storm surge experienced in the city duringless intense storms. Economic studies and current data show that while the MRGO continues to contribute to the region’s economy, its overall economic value in terms of freight has declined. Studies also document some of the MRGO’s continuing ecological costs to salinity intrusion and bank erosion. In mid-2006, Congress appropriated the Corps $3.3 million to develop a plan to deauthorize deep-draft navigation on the MRGO, and funded the construction of closures of the portion of the Outlet shown to contribute to New Orleans flooding. Any decision to fully or partially close the Outlet is likely to require additional decisions and costs related to wetlands restoration, local economic assistance, and other navigation infrastructure.This report introduces the primary issues related to congressional choices about the future of the MRGO; these issues include the Outlet’s role in the economic and transportation network of Louisiana and the lower Mississippi River basin, as well as its role in regional vulnerability to hurricane storm surge propagation and wetlandsloss. This report will be updated as events warrant.