Gulf oil spill fines help fund restoration of Louisiana beach

Gulf oil spill fines help fund restoration of Louisiana beach

(WVUE) - Louisiana's newest beach, a 13-mile long peninsula of sand, covers an area roughly equivalent in size to 1,047 football fields.

The Caminada Headland has been restored over the last several years in two phases that, together, total the largest coastal restoration project in Louisiana history at $216 million.

"This signals that we're making real progress," said Gov. John Bel Edwards shortly before cutting a ceremonial ribbon marking the project's completion.  "That's going to accelerate over the coming years as we bring more resources to bear that we can invest in coastal restoration."

The project, completed in two phases dating back to 2012, used a first-of-its-kind-method to mine offshore sand. Contractors operated a dredge in Ship Shoal, an ancient river delta now submerged in the Gulf of Mexico, and barged the material 40 miles to Caminada.

While the restoration work appears to be widely popular, there has been some push back from locals over the state decision to bar the long practice of driving vehicles on the beach.

"It doesn't make sense to park and drag a wagon with your grandkids," said Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle.  "By the time you get to the beach, you're shot."

Local officials say their emails have been blowing up with constituents complaining about the state decision, which is designed to protect the beach and the investment of millions of dollars.

"There's a problem I have when you spend public funds, public money, and don't let the people who pay taxes enjoy the benefits of what you've done," said Lafourche Parish President Jimmy Cantrelle.

Following his remarks, Edwards told FOX 8 he was only now learning of the dispute.  He vowed his administration would work with local communities, but stressed the state was committed to protecting the newly rebuilt natural areas.

The Caminada Headland project has been dreamed of in coastal planning circles since the 1970s.  Officials said the beach had been one of the fastest-eroding shorelines in North America, shedding roughly 40 feet of beach per year.

The $216 million was funded from a variety of sources, including $30 million of state surplus money five years ago. However, the largest individual piece, $145.9 million, flowed from fines associated with the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Fund was established in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon blowout to manage funds resulting from the settlement of federal criminal charges against BP and Transocean.

Late last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Foundation awarded Louisiana $245 million to continue work on two giant projects aimed at funneling Mississippi River sediment into wetlands, one on each bank of the river in Plaquemines Parish.

A separate project will be designed to move freshwater from the Atchafalaya River into Terrebonne Basin wetlands.

The fund received roughly $2.5 billion from settlements with BP and Transocean, $1.7 billion intended for projects in Louisiana.

While some of the money is targeted at barrier island restoration, much of the future focus is directed at the proposed sediment diversion projects.

A $102 million grant will allow the state to complete engineering and design work for Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion on the west bank. State officials estimate the diversion will eventually cost $1.3 billion. It is designed to move up to 75,000 cubic feet per second of river water into shallow bays and marsh.

Early engineering work is also underway on the proposed Mid-Breton Diversion for  the east bank, which the state estimates to cost about $696 million. It would be designed to push a maximum of 35,000 cubic feet per second into areas around Breton Sound.

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