Disaster Cleanup, Saving Louisiana's Coast.

Disaster Cleanup, Saving Louisiana's Coast.

The first shipments of sand were brought in last week for the Caminada Headland beach restoration project in Fourchon Beach. The six-month project is a long-awaited effort to strengthen some of the weakest coastal areas in Lafourche Parish against the threat of future storm surges. Six miles of beach and dunes are scheduled to be fortified and restored, from LA 3090 East to Elmer’s Island.

The projected and budgeted cost of this restoration effort came in at $70 million, but the deal was signed at a low bid of only $55.5 million, which will allow for even more restoration work to be funded on the headlands as well. This will be a restorative effort not only for the protection of our coastal communities, but for the many wildlife communities struggling right along with us in the wake of a changing climate and an unprecedented rate of rapid land loss.

The Caminada Headland encompasses Fourchon Beach from Belle Pass to Caminada Pass near Grand Isle, and the project will take about 5 million cubic yards of dredged material being pumped 27 miles to the beach from a hopper barge, where it will then be distributed and used to form a protective border of 6-foot dunes overlooking 65 feet of brand new beach land.

Since this particular area experiences some of the most rapid rates of shoreline loss from erosion (over 100 feet a year in some spots!), its continued loss has become a very real and looming threat to the remaining wetlands, wildlife, and livelihoods of all of South Lafourche, because storm surges will grow larger and reach further inland as more land is lost at the coast.

The commencement of this project was a great follow-up to the West Belle Pass Headland project in Fourchon, which succeeded by the end of last winter in rebuilding over 8,500 feet of beaches and dunes with only 1.7 million cubic yards of material. This project, coming in at $40 million, also succeeded in creating almost 220 new acres of marshland and a total of 93 acres of dunes.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also currently working on a $446 million project to rebuild the Caminada shoreline south of Port Fourchon as well as Shell Island east of Grand Isle, which has also been slowly sinking and disappearing over the years.

When you consider the expense to both local and federal budgets incurred by these large-scale restoration projects, knowing all we do about the slow and sometimes self-serving movement of bureaucracy and politics, it’s scary to think that such expensive projects are being proposed and carried out, because it means that the alternative, doing nothing, would be even more costly and destructive to our way of life.

That’s why the price tags were included in this blog. We hear about the importance of saving the wetlands and stopping coastal erosion all the time, but sometimes it’s difficult to picture the full extent of the loss without a dollar amount attached to it, and if $446 million was deemed by our federal government as a worthwhile investment, then just think about all the millions and billions of dollars Louisiana has already lost to the Gulf of Mexico.

The truth is that we could spend the same amount of money for the next 50 years on coastal restoration projects and still only be left with a slightly larger fraction of the land we had 100 years before. Since 1932, Louisiana has lost over 1,900 square miles of land—the size of Delaware—to coastal erosion, but we have also created new deltas in the Atchafalaya Basin (by accident) which have formed entire new bodies of fertile, self-sustaining and replenishing land, proving that there is hope if we think in terms of water flowing the way nature intended, specifically the Mississippi River.

A changing climate and the need for man-made diversions in the natural flow of the river have taken a huge chunk out of the land we once had, but if we can find a way to work with Nature rather than against her, perhaps this little boot of ours might grow a few more sizes after all.

Check out this video from the National Wetlands Research Center in Lafayette for an animated time lapse of coastal land loss since 1932. (Be warned, it’s a great video, but kind of depressing.)