January 11, 2006

New Orleans leaders want to close shipping channel

By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - The Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet
shipping channel, which has been blamed for helping to inundate
New Orleans, would be closed under a rebuilding plan introduced
by city officials on Wednesday.

The commercial shipping channel, known locally from its
initials as "Mr. Go," stretches for 76 miles along the city's
eastern edge.

It is little used for shipping and many in New Orleans say
it contributes to the erosion of wetlands on the eastern side
of the city that would help protect against storm surges during

Scientists from Louisiana State University's Hurricane
Center say the MRGO, along with the Intracoastal Waterway,
acted as a funnel for the storm surge from Hurricane Katrina
that hit on August 29.

It has been blamed for contributing to the heavy flooding
in New Orleans East and neighboring St. Bernard Parish.

The channel was built as short cut to the Gulf of Mexico
from New Orleans and opened in 1965.

It has been a point of controversy from the beginning. Some
city officials say it has fallen short of expectations, with
traffic averaging only one vessel a day.

Experts have noted that Katrina damaged the shipping
channel by dumping sediment that has reduced the waterway's
depth dramatically in some sections.

Closing it would have no effect on the vast amount of farm
goods that move through the area each year, agricultural
exporters and shippers said.

The Mississippi Gulf accounts for between 55 percent and 65
percent of the $60 billion worth of agricultural products that
the United States exports each year.

(Additional reporting by Lisa Haarlander in Chicago)