A report by a panel of scientists says a $2-billion federal-state program should help restore some of the 1.2 million acres of Louisiana coastal wetlands lost since the 1930s. But it recommends that officials reconsider including one of the envisioned first five projects and carry out the work as part of a broader plan.

The report, released Nov. 9, was done by a committee assembled by the National Academies’ National Research Council. It critiques a $2-billion, multiyear Louisiana Coastal Area plan released by the Corps of Engineers in November 2004. The plan includes five "near-term critical" projects (map), which would reduce loss of land by about 20%, to 8.6 sq miles a year, at a cost of about $864 million.

But the National Academies’ review questions one of those five items: bolstering the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet’s banks with 38 miles of stone revetment at a cost of $105 million. The report says the project would reduce land loss only by 0.2 sq miles annually. Because of limited benefits and a pending Corps study of decommissioning the canal for deep-draft ships, keeping the MRGO project in the priority group "should be reconsidered," the panel says. Click here to view map

Others have criticized the canal, dubbed "Mr. Go." Scott Faber, Environmental Defense water resources specialist, told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Nov. 9 that MRGO should be shut immediately. He says its ship traffic is down more than 50% since 1986.

The NRC panel says planners also must look at the big picture, recommending that proposed work be carried out "only in conjunction with the development of a comprehensive plan." (ENR 9/12 p. 23)

The Corps has $8.5 million for initial work on the plan, but can’t move on the full program until Congress authorizes it. In July, the House passed a new Water Resources Development Act with the coastal program (ENR 7/25 p. 12). In the Senate, a WRDA that includes the Louisiana projects cleared committee in April, but has stalled since then.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have altered Louisiana’s coast, but the impact on the restoration plan isn’t clear. Corps spokesman Dave Hewitt says agencies have been surveying the region’s wetlands. But the work is far from complete. The U.S. Geological Survey reports preliminary estimates show the storms turned about 100 sq miles of southeast Louisiana marshes into open water.

Defense: Base Closure Plan Clears Its Final Hurdle
The Pentagon has begun to carry out an independent commission’s blueprint to shut 22 major military posts and make changes at many others. When Congress failed to reject the panel’s plan by Nov. 9, that gave the Dept. of Defense authority to proceed with the closures. DOD says it must start the shutdowns by Sept. 15, 2007, and finish work four years after that.

DOD proposed closing 33 major installations (ENR 5/23, p.12). The Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission said 12 of those should stay open and added one closure not on DOD’s list. Other bases will see work force gains or losses. The panel said the plan will require about $21 billion in up-front costs. That includes construction at bases adding personnel.

Rail: Gunn Replaced As Amtrak Chief
Amtrak’s board has dismissed David L. Gunn, its president since 2002, after he didn’t pursue a restruc-turing program as strongly as the board wanted and opposed a plan to split off the Northeast Corridor as a subsidiary. Amtrak Chairman David M. Laney told a House subcommittee hearing Nov. 15 that Gunn refused "to go in several new directions" and was "at best, an unwilling bystander" in carrying out a program that included opening rail service to competition. Chief Engineer David Hughes is Amtrak’s acting president.

Gunn told the panel he was surprised when Laney told him he was terminated, but not surprised the board was unhappy with his views on the Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak spent $375 million in fiscal 2005 on upgrading tunnels and other infrastructure, with some work handled by outside firms.

EPA: Deadline Is Extended for Clean Diesel Fuel
The Environmental Protection Agency has given fuel terminals and retail stores 45 more days to comply with a rule to trim highway diesel fuel sulfur levels to 15 parts per million. Refineries must make reductions by June 1, 2006. New "ultra-low-sulfur" diesel is now due for sale by Oct. 15. The delay could prolong the rollout of clean highway engines due by 2007, EPA says. Today’s highway diesel fuel has a sulfur rating of 500 ppm.

By Tom Ichniowski and Tudor Hampton