NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - State officials hope to turn dirt within the next several years on the first of the controversial large projects aimed at fighting coastal land loss.
The plan involves punching holes in the Mississippi River levee and building large structures to deliver sediment-rich water into the marsh. Scientists and engineers hope to mimic the land-building power of the river, which built the delta over the course of several thousand years.
However, many commercial fishermen and charter boat captains worry large amounts of fresh river water would turn large bays fresh for much of the year.
"I think we're looking at on the order of three to five years before construction might start," said Bren Haase, a senior planner with the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority or CPRA.
First in line would be two large diversions downriver from New Orleans, one on each bank of the river, to send water and silt into Barataria Bay and Breton Sound. Like the administration of former Gov. Bobby Jindal, aides to Gov. John Bel Edwards have embraced the diversions as important tools in the state's coastal master plan.
"Lack of sediment is our largest issue," CPRA Chairman Johnny Bradberry said.
However, Bradberry concedes that diversions could harm fisheries and says the administration is considering moving oyster leases and compensating fishermen.
"We don't want you to lose your business entirely," Bradberry said.
Charter boat captain George Ricks, a vocal opponent of diversions, remains skeptical.
"Where are they going to get all the money from?" Ricks asked. "Compensatory mitigation in this case is going to be phenomenal."
Bradberry concedes that he does not know where the cash-strapped state would find the money.
Disciples of diversions say the giant structures would need to be managed for the least impact on fisheries, operating only at certain times of the year when the river is high and richest in silt.
They point to examples of small areas connected to the river where land is being built, such as the smaller Davis Pond freshwater diversion on the west bank of the river and the Wax Lake Outlet southwest of Morgan City.