PORT FOUCHON, La. (CN) – Louisiana celebrated completion of the largest coastal-restoration project it has ever undertaken to repair coastal lands this week with a ribbon-cutting attended by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
The project repaired 13 miles of land that had been worn away over the last 50 years. To complete the $219 million project, 8.7 million cubic yards of sand were brought in from an ancient delta of the Mississippi River 27 miles away.
The newly refurbished 13-mile stretch runs from the Belle Pass outlet of Bayou Lafourche eastward to Caminada Pass at the end of Elmer’s Island and will block sensitive marsh and land from future storms.
“This is the largest single ecosystem restoration the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority has ever undertaken, and the results are outstanding,” Edwards said as he celebrated the work. “[The Coastal Protection Restoration Authority’s] restoration of this and other coastal beaches and headlands — along with the impressive rebuilding of our chain of barrier islands — sets the stage for even larger projects further inland as we restore our land and marshes that are vital to the protection of our homes, families, business, infrastructure and our very way of life.”
Restoration of the beach will buffer storm surge, protecting lands and homes further inland from the effects of storms and hurricanes, and will provide significant protection to Port Fourchon, the country’s largest energy port, which services 90 percent of all deepwater activity in the Gulf of Mexico.
Port Fourchon is situated at the mouth of Bayou Lafourche, which is separated from the Gulf of Mexico only by a slight and very fragile stretch of beach, dune and marsh.
In the recent past more land extended below Port Fourchon, with a shoreline that went on another half mile or more south into the Gulf of Mexico. Over the past century the shoreline has eroded and retreated. As erosion has taken effect, salt water has intermixed with habitats further inland, destroying the roots of freshwater plants and causing the land on which they once thrived to loosen and fall away. Hundreds of thousands of acres of land in Louisiana have melted into the sea this way. Land loss for Port Fourchon poses a significant security threat, as it leaves the port vulnerable to storms, without barrier lands to muffle their power.
“The increased protection this provides to our port facility is already paying dividends,” said Chet Chiasson, executive director of the Greater Lafourche Port Commission, who observed that companies in the oil industry are more interested working from the port now that it has ecological protection from storms.
This is just one of several ecological restoration projects to be completed by Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan. This project in particular cost roughly $216 million and was funded in part through $30 million in state surplus monies, also with $40 through the Coastal Impact Assistance Program, and with another $145.9 million that came through the National Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund that was established in the wake of BP and Transocean’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“The conclusion of this critical project represents an historic milestone for Louisiana and for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF),” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “Today, Caminada stands as the largest and most significant restoration project in the history of Louisiana and NFWF. The total project has re-established nearly 800 acres of critical habitat for shorebirds, such as the threatened piping plover, and other wildlife. In addition, restoration of Caminida Headlands strengthens the first line of defense against the persistent effects of coastal erosion in Louisiana. We are proud to have partnered with the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana to deliver this critical and sustainable project on time and on budget.”
The new beach covers an area equivalent to approximately 1,047 football fields. The 8.4 million cubic yards of sand excavated from the ancient Mississippi River Delta was barged 30 miles to the headland where it was used to build up 13 miles of beach to a height 4.5 feet above sea level, with a dune elevation of seven feet, and a dune crest width of 290 feet. The average depth of the beach from dune to shoreline is approximately 65 feet.
Louisiana’s coastline has been losing wetlands over the last quarter century at a rate of 16.57 square miles a year, which equals the loss of a football field every hour, according to a study by the U.S. Geological Survey.
CPRA Chairman Johnny Bradberry grew up in the area and has seen firsthand the startling effects of coastal erosion in just one lifetime.
“I know what we had and what we lost,” Bradberry said. “And so have many generations of people who’ve lived and visited this area over many decades. This is a great day to celebrate what has been accomplished here, but we know the urgency of doing more projects like this, and bigger projects on the coast and in our marshes. There is much more to do, and we’re doing it, but let us not forget our successes along the way — and this is a major success.”