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New Orleans, La. -
The old I-10 Twin Span bridge has arrived at its final resting place. The bridge, torn up by Hurricane Katrina, is now on the front lines in the fight against future storms.
Along much of coastal Louisiana, slabs under homes have been replaced by wheels.
Bill Gillen lives in a mobile home, ready to roll out of New Orleans East as a storm approaches. "I take my car, and trailer anything of use and get it out," he says.
It didn't used to be this way. The coast is much closer than it used to be.
Gillen says the storms come much more frequently now, and seem to cause more damage. He says, "It's changed. We have a season of hurricanes now."
Now, there's another measure of progress in the battle to save what's left.
Tony Zelenka with Bertucci Contracting shows us on a map. "It starts at Alligator Point and goes all the way to Bayou Thomas," he notes.
We traveled east on Chef Pass, to see first hand the spot where the old Twin Span is now, ironically, at work in the fight against future storms.
"Ultimately this could be the last stand here," said Zelenka.
The pulverized bridge is now bagged in 38-by-9-feet plastic mesh sacks, or mattresses, in place along an eight-mile stretch of northern Lake Borgne, near Chef Pass, an area that had been seeing a shore retreat of 7 feet a year.
"This piece of land is extremely important to Orleans, St Bernard and St Tammany," says Zelenka.
Not only are these mats an effective way to protect the shoreline and the New Orleans East land bridge - they are also extremely cost-effective, when you consider how much it would have cost to destroy all that concrete from the Twin Span.
This 8-mile stretch of coastal protection was put in place for slightly more than it would have cost to have the Twin Span rubble disposed somewhere else.
"We've been pleased with these mats. Isaac hit us, gaps weren't filled... didn't have any movement whatsoever," said Zelenka.
The mats aren't to be confused with a levee. While it may help knock down some surge, it's designed primarily to keep any more of the coastal storm buffer from washing away.
"It doesn't take the wave head on," Zelenka says. "It breaks it up like a beach."
At 83 years old, Bill Gillen appreciates any effort to beef up a coast he's watched disappear during his lifetime.
"They're doing the right things to protect New Orleans," Gillen says. "But they're doing the right thing by making mandatory evacuations."
It's a price he's willing to pay, for the life, he loves.
The old Twin Span was crushed at a workyard in Slidell and barged down to Lake Borgne. The $31 million project was paid for by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and the City of New Orleans.
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