Louisiana: Replacement of New Orleans Industrial Canal Lock
Agency: Army 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).
On October 5, 2000, the Council signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) outlining measures to mitigate the adverse effects of the New Orleans Industrial Canal Lock Replacement Project on the Bywater and Holy Cross Historic Districts.
Intended to address the continued liveability of the historic districts during this 10-12 year Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) construction project, the MOA provides for development of conservation plans for the districts in consultation with the New Orleans Historic District Landmarks Commission and community stakeholders; biennial review of the Corpsí Community Impact Mitigation Plan (CIMP) implementation to ensure that it adequately addresses social impacts of the project; and reservation of $600,000 for use as a revolving fund in the historic districts should the CIMP fail to fully mitigate project impacts.
In addition, the MOA provides for recordation of the Galvez Street Wharf, Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Lock, and St. Claude Avenue Bridge; advertisement of the bridge for salvage and relocation; and creation of a public education program interpreting the history of the lock, wharf, and bridge.
The project to replace the New Orleans Industrial Canal Lock (also known as the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Lock) 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 pre-cast, floated-in concrete lock 110 feet wide by 1200 feet long that is 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, using Coast Guard monies for addressing navigational hazards. (For further information on the project, visit www.mvn.usace.army.mil/prj/ihnc.)
The proposed replacement of the lock and related canal segments would also adversely affect the Holy Cross and Bywater Historic Districts, both eligible for the National Register. The districts are significant for their small-scale, vernacular architecture dating from 1807 to 1935. The Holy Cross Neighborhood Associationrepresenting the neighborhood that would be most directly affected by project constructionexpressed 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 project has been controversial. The Holy Cross Neighborhood Association maintained that the Corps and the Port of New Orleans were reluctant to consult meaningfully with them and other groups while proceeding with project planning. The Corps countered that the project was redesigned to have less impact on historic properties and adjacent neighborhoods and, moreover, that the $33 million CIMP will lessen the projectís effects on residents. Orleans Parish 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 the 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. Following an February 2000 onsite tour and meetings with representatives of the Corps, the Louisiana State Historic Preservation Officer, and concerned community groups and residents, the Council provided the Corps with extensive comments on the draft MOA, which were incorporated into the final 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 were considered by the Corps and the Council through the Section 106 review.
Staff contact: Margie Nowick
June 2000 report on this case
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