To view this page ensure that Adobe Flash Player version 11.1.0 or greater is installed.
RIVERFRONT WATCH A series of approved and proposed developments could radically alter the riverfront in New Orleans BY Nathan Lott THE MISSISSIPPI RIVERFRONT in New Orleans is no stranger to change. The course of the river itself moved many times before arriving at the present crescent. The vantage afforded by that bend in the river, coupled with the ease of access to Lake Pontchartrain via Bayou St. John, famously inspired the city’s founding by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bievnville. Only three years later, the engineer Adrien de Pauger oversaw construction of the city’s first earthen levee; though just a few feet high, it marked the first in a litany of human-made changes that continues today. Commerce drove many of those changes, as New Orleans became the nation’s transship- ment depot. Today, river transport remains an economic mainstay, but technological and commercial changes have freed miles of riverfront for new uses. Several proposals have been made to alter or repurpose the Mississippi waterfront. The combined effect of these proposals could alter the city’s most historic neighborhoods for a generation. Proposed Inner Harbor Navigation Canal lock and bridge Replacement Commonly known as the Industrial Canal, the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal linking the Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain was begun in 1918 and finished five years later. Lou- isiana authorized its construction by the Port of New Orleans on the heels of the opening of the Panama Canal. The long-imagined water link between the lake and river had eluded New Orleans for two centuries because of the engineering challenge presented by river levels 10 to 20 feet above those in the estuarine lake. An early 20th-century engineering marvel, the lock, constructed where the canal meets the river, raises and lowers vessels. St. Claude Avenue crosses the lock on an integrated Strauss heel trunnion bascule bridge that raises with help from a large counterweight. It is one of three along the canal and just a few remaining in use nationwide; these bridges were named for their inventor, Joseph B. Strauss, who went on to become chief engineer on the Golden Gate Bridge. Following WWII, the Industrial Canal gave rise to a yet more ambitious canal, the Mis- sissippi River Gulf Outlet. Completed in 1968, MRGO required more dredging than the Panama Canal and destroyed 20,000 acres of wetlands. This 75-mile link to the Gulf never produced the economic benefits predicted; instead saltwater intrusion continued to kill off cypress swamps east of New Orleans, and the eroded channel infamously funneled storm surge into the city when Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005. A barge struck the Indus- trial Canal wall unleashing a devastating torrent into the Lower 9th Ward. In the documentary “Locked,” urban ecologist Dr. Josh Lewis says, “The vision of the inner harbor — of relocating the port into this area — is one of the biggest failures in Ameri- can urban planning history.” The MRGO is now blocked by a rock dam and the massive $1.3 billion IHNC-Lake Borgne Surge Barrier, and the Industrial Canal primarily serves barge traffic on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Buoyed by talk of infrastructure investment by 22 PRESERVATION IN PRINT • PRCNO.org JUNE 2019