The America’s WETLAND Foundation is leading the construction of a new kind of shoreline protection project to stop the widening of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, and, if successful, could have widespread applications.
Initially dredged from the 1920s to late 1940s through the coastal areas of Louisiana, the waterway ranged from 125 feet and 150 feet in width. But, wave action from boats and other forces have increased the width of the navigation channel to the point where the waters can be influenced by tides.
The project in Lafourche Parish near Larose is using a new, lightweight material developed by a Baton Rouge-based company, Martin Ecosystems. Using recycled plastic, the sheets of material are seeded with plants before and after being applied over a dirt berm to help keep the material and the barrier in place.
About a mile on the south side of the channel will be completed in January with construction of almost 3 miles on the north side expected to start next spring.
The first phase of the project costs about $1 million a mile, which is about an eighth of the cost of traditional shoreline protection method, said Sidney Coffee, senior advisor of the America’s WETLAND Foundation.
Chip Kline, executive assistant to the governor for coastal activities, added: “I think this project we’re going to see today is a prime example of what new technology can do when put into practice.”
Traditional shoreline protection involves placing piles of rock in a levee-like formation. However, the soft soils in much of Louisiana make the method expensive, and the structures often sink into the ground.
“It sinks, it’s expensive and it’s time consuming,” said Coffee. “It can be overwhelming to a landowner.”
As the state continues work on the next updated coastal master plan, these kinds of new techniques will be welcomed, he said.
Already tested in other areas of Louisiana, the new technology holds promise for future shoreline erosion, especially along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway — an area where the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers disagree on maintenance obligations.
The state has maintained that the channel was a federal project and maintenance should be covered by the federal government. The Corps has maintained that congress hasn’t approved money for the shoreline maintenance.
In the meantime, property owners along the channel and coastal advocates have said channel erosion must be stopped if surrounding coastal projects are going to succeed.
Ethan Miller, owner of Louisiana Delta Farms, said the family has had the property on the south side of the project since the late 1930s. About 10 years ago, efforts were made to stop the erosion between the channel and their property, at a cost of close to $500,000.
This new technique, he said, has already helped improve the habitat on the property for ducks by shutting off the flow through from the channel into the property.
Ted Falgout, the landowner on the other side of the channel, said the project will help keep tidal surge and storm surge out of the waterway and reduce flood risks. With the affordability of the new technique, he said, it has promise in many areas of the waterway.
“It’s far more affordable and increases the interest of landowners to get involved,” Falgout said.
As such, America’s WETLAND Foundation started meeting with community organizations two years ago to find a way to help pay for this type of work, which isn’t included in the state’s coastal master plan but is compatible.
The project is being funded through donations from a variety of sources including America’s Wetland Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, CITGO, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Chevron and Community Coffee.
“It was all about how to bring private investment to coastal restoration,” Coffee said.
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