Progress in Talks to Resume Stalled $3 Billion Coastal Restoration Project

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana coastal restoration officials have reached agreement with local officials in a coastal parish to renew some preparatory work for a nearly $3 billion coastal restoration project that has been halted amid legal disputes.

The agreement announced Thursday between the state and Plaquemines Parish means a stop-work order is being partially lifted, allowing site preparation to resume for the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion.

The project is planned to divert some of the Mississippi River’s sediment-laden water into a new channel and guide it into the Barataria Basin southeast of New Orleans. If it works, the sediment will settle out in the basin and gradually restore land that has been steadily disappearing for decades.

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Ground was broken for the project last year. But it has drawn opposition and litigation from commercial fishers, oyster harvesters and some state and local officials who fear any benefits will be outweighed, economically and environmentally, by the introduction of non-salty water into the brackish and saltwater areas.

Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and Plaquemines Parish released a joint statement Thursday, saying they “are working toward a mutually acceptable path forward for the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion.”

The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reports that numerous questions remain about the future of the project, which underwent years of planning and scientific evaluation and had won approval from many, if not all, public officials and environmental groups.

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It is unclear whether any negotiated changes would trigger an entirely new federal environmental assessment, which would mean more delays. Also, further approval might be needed from boards and trustees administering payments for the project, financed by fines and settlements from the 2010 BP oil spill.

“Lifting the stop work order on the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion is a necessary and critical next step forward for Louisiana’s quickly disappearing coastal wetlands, which protect our coastal communities, businesses and ecosystem,” a spokesperson for Restore the Mississippi River Delta said in a statement. “We expect and call for the project to move forward as planned, without further delay.”

Restore the Mississippi River Delta is a coalition of national and local conservation groups that includes the Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation and Pontchartrain Conservancy.

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