News about Louisiana's coast is usually worrisome: more land lost, more lawsuits filed, more money needed.
But this past week, federal and state officials gathered on the north shore to tout a program they say is working — the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act. The federal law, spearheaded by former U.S. Sen. John Breaux, of Louisiana, was passed in 1990.
The act, known as CWPPRA, provides for federal funds to be coordinated through five agencies and funneled to Louisiana to pay for coastal restoration projects. In 1990, the amount was about $30 million a year. Now it's closer to $80 million.
Those federal funds pay for 85 percent of the cost of coastal projects; the state is required to come up with the remainder. Since its passage, officials said, the act has paid for 108 projects. Eighteen more are under construction, and 23 are being designed.
One of the projects highlighted Wednesday was the Bayou Bonfouca Marsh Creation Project near Slidell.
Coastal engineer Joe Guillory stood on the bow of an airboat and pointed at acres of shallow water dotted with sludgy heaps of mud. That mud had been dredged from Lake Pontchartrain about a mile away and pumped into the marsh, which was heavily damaged during Hurricane Katrina.
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The storm caused breaches in the lake's rim, allowing tides to rush into the marsh and wash it out, converting it into a giant open water area adjacent to the lake. Now, slowly, the area is being reclaimed by shallow marsh where vegetation and wildlife can flourish.
As Guillory spoke, heavy equipment nearby plunged a bucket into the marsh and brought up loads of clay, which was then piled on top of an earthen berm.
Farther away, water and mud poured out of the dredge pipeline. A few dozen egrets looked on, while other birds flew overhead.
When finished, the $28 million Bayou Bonfouca project will have created about 600 acres of marsh, officials said.
A few hundred yards to the north, Danny Breaux, the manager of the Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge, piloted the boat through the grasses of an established marsh known as Goose Point.
Katrina turned this section of marsh into open water as well, but it has since been filled in, thanks to a separate CWPPRA project. The fill enabled grasses and birds, especially ducks, to quickly recolonize the area, turning it into vibrant marsh.
That's the benefit Breaux hopes to see from the Bonfouca project.
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The project near Slidell was one of seven spotlighted Wednesday at a gathering of federal, state and local officials. The others are in Plaquemines, Lafourche, St. James and Jefferson parishes, though officials toured only the Bonfouca project.
Johnny Bradberry, executive assistant to Gov. John Bel Edwards for coastal activities and chairman of the board of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said the CWPPRA money enables state officials to finance far more projects than the state could on its own.
"We have $217 million in projects going," he said of the current CWPPRA projects in the state. "The state's share is only $28 million."
Many of the relatively small projects don't draw as much attention as larger, sometimes billion-dollar restoration projects, but they often provide quicker, more tangible returns. Over the years, that's added up.
"They are very impactful," Bradberry said. "Especially on a cumulative basis."