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State and federal scientists and officials inspect a recently formed marsh island, part of a freshwater diversion project to counteract coastal erosion, during a tour for federal and state coastal restoration representatives hosted by Plaquemines Parish in Venice. Islands like this one are formed when sediment flowing down the Mississippi river is deposited in calmer waters. The general idea of a freshwater diversion is to divert this sediment filled water from the fast moving Mississippi to calmer areas by way of diversion canals branching off from the river.

Small businesses trying to get water management projects in the state have a new resource, The Louisiana Coastal Technical Assistance Center, slated to open in Thibodaux at Nicholls State University. 

The center will work with small businesses for training, licensing and other qualifications to prepare companies to bid on hundreds of millions of dollars in annual coastal recovery projects. 

The partnership includes The Louisiana Coastal Protection Authority, The Water Institute of the Gulf, the Louisiana Economic Development department, the South Louisiana Economic Council and Nicholls State University. 

The goal is to prepare as many Louisiana companies before coastal restoration contracts are open for bids. LED and the Louisiana Coastal Protection Authority will chip in a total of $750,000 as seed funding for the center over a span of three years. Nicholls State University plans to offer technical support and research in addition to a shared office space and small business incubator. 

The South Louisiana Economic Council is tasked with overseeing operations and developing a business plan. 

“We consider water management one of the key sectors for economic growth in our state,” said Don Pierson, secretary of Louisiana Economic Development. 

The reason water management may be a budding industry is that the Louisiana coast continues to disappear. The problem has been attributed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers's construction to an extensive levee system in the 1930s to harness the Mississippi River and stop annual flooding to protect communities nearby. But that flooding was key to dispersing sediment and building up land over time. Oil and gas industry canals have allowed salt water to seep into the usually freshwater wetlands for decades, which compounds the issue.

It's estimated that every hour and a half, the state loses another football field's worth of land.

There are some local businesses that already work on restoration projects. For example, Covington-based Weeks Marine won the construction bid on a $160 million project this week to restore three barrier islands on the edge of Terrebonne Basin. Over a two-year period, the company plans to dredge 9.2 million cubic yards of sand to create more than 1,100 acres of land — ranging from beach to dunes and marsh. The project is funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which has been the administrator for the $2.5 billion fund stemming from the BP oil spill settlement. 

There are already $564 million in projects under construction along the coast, which includes the Gulf hurricane protection project. There's another $984 million across eight more restoration projects still in the engineering and design phase.

Companies can register to connect with the new center at http://bayouregion.com/CTAC/

Email Kristen Mosbrucker at kmosbrucker@theadvocate.com.