Louisiana: Replacement of the New Orleans Industrial Canal Lock
Agency: Corps of Engineers
Criteria for Council Involvement:
- This multi-year engineering project will adversely affect a large number of historic properties, including two historic districts and several National Register-eligible structures (Criterion 1).
- The project raises important policy questions about evaluating project impacts on historic properties in the context of environmental justice for minority and low-income communities (Criterion 2).
- There has been substantial public controversy (Criterion 3).
In March, the Council provided the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) with comments on a draft Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for replacement of the New Orleans Industrial Canal Lock. The Councilís recommendations were made based on findings from an onsite tour and meeting with representatives of the Corps and the Louisiana State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), as well as concerned community groups and residents.
The Council recommended that the Corps better address the effects of extensive and sustained construction on the continued livability of nearby Holy Cross and Bywater Historic Districts. The Council suggested that the Corps consider including provisions in the MOA for: revolving fund(s) for the acquisition and/or rehabilitation of buildings within the historic districts; mortgage assistance programs; support of development of historic district conservation plans by community stakeholders and the city; review of plans for new levees and a replacement bridge by district residents and the SHPO; and an oral history program focused on the historic lock.
Such measures would address the impact of the project on the two historic districts and support as yet unknown actions to be taken by the Corps through its Social Impact Mitigation Program. The Council awaits the Corpsí response to these recommendations.
The New Orleans Industrial Canal Lock Replacement Project has a long history. The canal lock was built in 1923 by the Port of New Orleans to provide navigation between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. During World War II, the Federal Government leased, then purchased the lock, which is now under Corps jurisdiction. The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1956 authorized the construction of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, a larger navigation channel that extends from the canal to the Gulf of Mexico for approximately 76 miles.
Citing eventual obsolescence, as well as navigational delays and safety concerns due to the presence of several bridges over the canal, the 1956 law also authorized replacement of the canal and lock with larger facilities. Monies have now been appropriated to initiate the replacement project.
The Corpsí preferred alternative would replace the 75-foot-wide by 640-foot-long historic lock and adjacent canal with a precast, floated-in concrete lock 110 feet wide by 1200 feet long able to accommodate deep-draft vessels. The St. Claude Bridge, the existing Inner Harbor Navigational Canal Lock, and the Galvez Street Wharfall eligible for the National Registerwould be replaced in the more than $400 million project. The Florida Avenue Bridge, also eligible for the National Register, will be replaced by the Port of New Orleans as a separate project with Coast Guard monies for addressing navigational hazards.
The proposed replacement of the lock and related canal segments would also adversely affect the Holy Cross and Bywater Historic Districts, which are eligible for the National Register. Both districts are significant for their small-scale, vernacular architecture dating from between 1807 and 1935. The Holy Cross Neighborhood Associationrepresenting the neighborhood which would be most directly affected by the project constructionhas expressed concerns about noise, increased traffic from road re-routings, decreased property values, and other impacts to their historic neighborhood during the estimated 10 to 12 years of project construction.
The Holy Cross Neighborhood Association maintains that the Corps and the Port of New Orleans have been reluctant to consult meaningfully with them and other groups, while apparently proceeding apace with project planning. The Corps counters that the project has been redesigned to have less impact on historic properties and adjacent neighborhoods and, moreover, that a $33 million Social Impact Mitigation Plan will lessen the projectís effects on residents. Orleans Parish has challenged the Corpsí economic impact study and mitigation plan as deficient in treating the concerns of affected employees, property owners, residents, and local government subdivisions.
The Council first became aware of this project in September 1998, when community and historic preservation groups, including the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association, Preservation Resources Center, and Tulane University Environmental Law Clinic, expressed concern about effects on historic properties and queried the status of the Corpsí Section 106 compliance. In response, the Council discussed the project with the Corps and encouraged the agency to begin consultation under Section 106 as soon as possible.
The Corps circulated a draft MOA for the project in June 1999, and the Council notified the Corps and the Secretary of the Army that it would actively participate in consultation. Since that time, the Corps and the Council have been consulting to resolve adverse effects and develop a revised MOA.
The scale of this project and the scope of its impacts on historic properties have engendered significant public controversy, and questions have been raised regarding the adequacy of public participation in its environmental review. In addition, there are environmental justice concerns, since the neighborhoods most directly impacted are primarily African American and low income. Both issues will need to be considered by the Corps and the Council as review under Section 106 proceeds.
Staff contact: Margie Nowick
October 1999 report on this case
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