Secretary of State Seeks Declaratory and Injunctive Relief From Federal Government for Illegal Release of Water into Mississippi Sound, Part of Public Trust Tidelands

From:  News Release   12/31/19   GCN

Gulfport, Miss.—Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, in his official capacity as trustee of the Public Trust Lands, filed suit today against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the Mississippi River Commission (MRC) on behalf of the citizens on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and all people in Mississippi, alleging an illegal release of water into the Mississippi Sound from the repeated opening of the Bonnet Carré Spillway.

"As State Land Commissioner and trustee of the Public Trust Lands, it is my duty to protect Mississippi's land, its water and its resources," stated Secretary Delbert Hosemann. "The infiltration of freshwater into the Mississippi Sound as a result of solely opening the Bonnet Carré caused devastating effects across the Mississippi Gulf Coast. In addition, this lawsuit does not address the monetary loss to the State and the Coast. This could be addressed in future litigation.”

The allegations in the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, stem from the unprecedented ecological and economic devastation upon the Mississippi Sound as a result of the diversion of freshwater from the Mississippi River into the Sound from the repeated opening of the Bonnet Carré Spillway this year.

The lawsuit specifically addresses the request for a temporary injunction to order the Corps to operate the Bonnet Carré Spillway in conjunction with the Morganza Spillway and to mitigate damage to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The lawsuit further alleges such action was taken without the benefit of an up-to-date Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), giving no consideration of the environmental impact to the Mississippi Sound and Mississippi’s Public Trust Tidelands. As part of the relief sought, the State has asked the Court to compel the Defendants to perform a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement as well as to utilize the Morganza Spillway to mitigate the freshwater inundation of the Mississippi Sound in the future.

In July, Secretary Hosemann asked the Corps and the MRC 1) to conduct an immediate study of the operating manuals and procedures for both the Morganza Floodway and the Bonnet Carré Spillway and 2) to include as part of the study, the ecological effects and economic impacts of freshwater intrusion into the Mississippi Sound as a result of the current operating procedures. In August, Secretary Hosemann requested additional modeling of the opening of the Morganza Floodway in varying amounts and later in the month testified before the Mississippi River Commission on the annual low-water inspection trip in Vicksburg where he reiterated all of these requests. Additionally, Secretary Hosemann, alongside the Department of Marine Resources, requested an Environmental Impact Study.

The Bonnet Carré Spillway has been opened five (5) times since 2011 and was opened twice this year for a total of 123 days, while the Morganza Floodway has been opened twice – in 1973 and 2011. The freshwater intrusion into the Mississippi Sound from the Bonnet Carré Spillway openings negatively impacted our oyster, shrimp, blue crab, and finfish harvests and caused devastating losses to commercial fisherman, charter boat operators, and the tourism industry.