NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -In Plaquemines Parish, just the mention of the largest coastal restoration project ever proposed can spark spirited debate.
For supporters, the $1.4 billion Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion represents the single best means of reconnecting the Mississippi River with the delta to build back land and sustain what otherwise would be lost.
For critics, the planned diversion-- paid for through fines and court settlements from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill-- would spell doom for fisheries.
The Plaquemines Parish Government has attempted to throw up roadblocks to the project, which would divert river water and sediment into Barataria Bay on the river’s west bank about 20 miles south of Belle Chasse.
Against that backdrop, state planners this week staged what they call a "coastal connection event," aimed at building support.
Ryan Lambert, a charter boat captain who has become an activist for river diversions, provided several dozen people boat tours on the east bank of the river.
There, in one of the few areas with no levees, Lambert says he has witnessed river silt build new areas of land.
"It's hard to put a name on it because it doesn't have a name because it's new," Lambert joked.
When operated, Mid-Barataria would send up to 75,000 cubic feet per second of river water into the marsh with the aim of building or sustaining 30,000 acres of land over a 50 year period.
Supporters argue the east bank sites featured in the tour offer a living laboratory for sediment diversion.
However, planners at the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority believe the proposed site 40 miles upriver can optimize the land-building potential. A second, somewhat smaller diversion is planned for the east bank.
Brad Barth, director of the CPRA sediment diversion program, said there is "much more river power upstream that can be much more benefit to us building land" than the downriver sites.
"In simple terms, it's not rocket science," said Paul Buras, a Plaquemines Parish resident who attended the coastal event near Port Sulphur.
"The land we're standing on was built by the river. So, if you're going to do any meaningful land building it's going to be by the river."
Critics argue the diversion would pour polluted, fresh water into the marshes and bays, killing oysters and other sea life.
Commercial fishermen recently complained to Governor Edwards about the potential impacts.
"They're gonna run it at least for a few months," said John Tesvich, head of the Plaquemines Oyster Association. "The oysters will be dead in a week or two."
While the parish administration has staked out a position firmly against the diversions, parish councilman Benny Rousselle remains on the fence.
“I know if would work,” Rousselle said after attending the event. “But I’m more concerned about the impacts.”
Buras, who owns a house in Jesuit Bend, said politicians need to think about all of the people. “I’m concerned,” Buras said. “I want that buffer in the marsh that’s going to knock down that storm surge.”