BURAS – Mississippi River sand placed on Shell Island looks like a field of mud for now, but soon it will be part of more than 600 acres of new land off the coast of Plaquemines Parish.
Called Shell Island West, the project involves the enlargement of a previously built project of 277 acres on Shell Island East that was completed in 2013 — a project that also beefed up the western part of the island.
The $80 million project is set to create 2.7 miles of beach and dune for a total of 319 acres, as well as 287 acres of marsh stretching behind the dunes built with dirt dredged from the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico and piped to the site off the Plaquemines coast.
The state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority is taking the lead on the project while working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
It’s not the first barrier island to use Mississippi River sediment for construction, but the work at Shell Island West is still impressive, with about 20 miles of pipeline and four booster pumps needed to deliver the dirt. The sandy river sediment is used to build the beach and dune, while the Gulf of Mexico sediment is used to create the marsh because it contains higher levels of organic material.
The pumping on the island began March 26 and is expected to be completed by October, said Chris Allen, the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s project manager for Shell Island.
“There’s a lot of important work going on out here that people aren’t really aware of,” Steve Cochran, director of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program, said during Friday’s trip to the island. “You ask someone inland how the restoration is going, and you kind of get a blank look.”
For others with the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program, Friday’s first look at the island’s restoration progress revealed a stark change from the broken-up land and open water once there.
Alisha Renfro, a Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign scientist, said that with the $20.8 billion settlement with BP over the 2010 spill having been finalized on April 4, more such projects will be constructed to bring back habitat. Louisiana stands to receive a minimum of $6.8 billion from the settlement.
The other three barrier island projects that received early restoration money were for Chenier Ronquille, Whiskey Island off Terrebonne Parish and North Breton Island to the east of Plaquemines Parish.
Once Shell Island West and Chenier Ronquille are completed, Grand Terre will be the only barrier island in the Barataria Basin that has not received substantial restoration work, Allen said. Work on Chenier Ronquille, west of Shell Island, should begin in May.
With the sixth anniversary of the April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon explosion and fire approaching, many environmental and coastal groups are re-emphasizing the importance of working to repair the damage done by the spill, especially now that a large amount of money will start flowing to Gulf states next year.
“With a final consent decree in place, it is now up to the state and federal agencies tasked with restoration to make good on their commitments to restore the Gulf region. The oil disaster wreaked havoc on the economy, communities and environment of the Gulf region,” Bethany Carl Kraft, director of the Gulf Restoration Program at the Ocean Conservancy, said in a prepared statement. “It is our responsibility to invest them wisely on transformative restoration projects that will chart a new future for the Gulf of Mexico.”
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.