Mississippi accepting applications for relief for 2019 Bonnet Carre Spillway disaster

Mississippi accepting applications for relief for 2019 Bonnet Carre Spillway disaster

The U.S. state of Mississippi is accepting applications for financial relief from commercial fishermen hurt by the 2019 Mississippi Bonnet Carre Spillway disaster.

The spillway is designed to divert floodwater away from the city of New Orleans and into the Mississippi Sound, but the surge of freshwater spillover into the ocean can shock oysters, crabs, and other aquatic life. When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway twice in 2019 – the first time it was ever opened twice in one year – it severely damaged area fisheries.

In 2020, the Department of Commerce declared the 2019 spillway releases a fishery disaster, allocating USD 88 million (EUR 80.6 million) in funding to Gulf of Mexico fisheries in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi to make up for lost revenue from lower oyster, shrimp, crab, and finfish landings. Of the USD 88 million (EUR 80.6 million), Mississippi received USD 21 million (EUR 19 million). 

The total was significantly less than the USD 500 million (EUR 446 million) in financial relief the three states asked for. Louisiana alone estimated it suffered USD 258 million (EUR 233 million) in losses from the flooding.

Now, four years after the spillway disaster and three years after the federal government announced the relief, the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources has launched for the 2019 Mississippi Bonnet Carré Spillway Fisheries Disaster Recovery Program to distribute the received USD 21 million in funding. Financial assistance applications for commercial fishermen, charter boat companies, and related businesses opened 9 August and will close 7 September.

Meanwhile, Mississippi officials and stakeholders are pushing the Army Corps of Engineers to take local interests and fisheries concerns into their decision-making process when considering opening the spillway.

A coalition of Mississippi governments, nonprofits, and businesses sued the Army Corps of Engineers over the 2019 opening, and in January, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers must consult with NOAA Fisheries on opening the spillway.

“Four years later, Mississippi communities still feel the effects of 2019,” U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) said in response to the ruling. “Gulf Coast communities should not be expected to contend with prolonged spillway openings when heavy rain leads to high water upstream. And going forward, the impact of such spillway openings on Mississippi needs to be considered in flood-control operations.”

The Army Corps of Engineers has appealed the district court’s decision.

At a congressional hearing in June, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Michael Connor committed to consult Mississippi Gulf Coast community leaders and businesses in conducting the Lower Mississippi River Comprehensive Management Study following questions from U.S. Rep. Mike Ezell (R-Mississippi).

"Our Gulf Coast community, especially the business owners who lost everything when the spillway was opened in 2019, deserve to have a say in the management of the Bonnet Carré," Ezell said. "I'm grateful to Assistant Secretary Connor for agreeing to include them in the conversation, and I look forward to continuing this discussion with the Corps as I work to ensure Mississippi has a voice on this issue."

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock/Mason Dauphin


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