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Coalition Calls for Faster Restoration of Wetlands Destroyed by Now-Closed Mississippi River Gulf Outlet

A coalition of advocacy groups this morning called on the federal government to double its efforts to restore the wetlands, marshes and barrier islands that help protect the Gulf Coast from hurricanes.

The MRGO Must Go coalition held a news conference and media tour to show what it says is slow progress in restoring wetlands along the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet to protect the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish, two communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

"The more vulnerable coastal communities are to hurricane damage, the more it costs the federal government--and taxpayers--to help those communities recover after a storm," said Pam Dashiell, co-director of the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development. "Katrina devastated both the Gulf Coast and the U.S. economy, causing nearly $90 billion in property damage alone."

The severity of Katrina's damage in Louisiana was caused, in part, by the fact that the state has lost 1/3 of its original wetlands - about 2,000 square miles -- an area larger than Delaware, the group said.

"Scientists agree that these lost wetlands could have helped reduce Katrina's storm surge," said Charles Allen, assistant director of the Center for Bioenvironmental Research at Tulane and Xavier Universities and co-director of the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development. "Wetlands are 'horizontal levees' that in many cases are more economical and effective at damage prevention than man-made vertical levees because they absorb storm energy, slow incoming waves, wind, and surge waters. It is widely recognized that we urgently need to restore these wetlands and coastal forests to prevent similar or worse storm damage in the future."

While the corps now has closed the MRGO, the agency's MRGO Ecosystem Restoration Plan - which must be completed before it seeks funding from Congress to rebuild the wetlands and cypress forests that will help protect the area - won't be completed until March 2011.

"The ongoing corps projects are significant, but there must be a continued sense of urgency to rebuild the natural deltaic ecosystem, infrastructure and the Mississippi River navigation system," said Col. David Dysart, chief administrative officer for St. Bernard Parish government.

"It must be priority number one,'' added St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro. "The corps should do everything it possibly can to expedite design and construction of critical restoration projects.''
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