America's newest beach has no hotels or tiki bars

(WVUE) - Sand streams out of a pipe on a barrier island 35 minutes out of Cocodrie, forming Louisiana's newest beach.

The $118 million Caillou Lake Headlands Project reassembles a portion of Whiskey Island in Terrebonne Parish, creating roughly 900 acres of land in a place that had been steadily vanishing.

"Where we're standing right now was water a year ago," said Brad Miller, project manager for the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

"In any given spot," Miller said, "there's five to seven feet of new sediment.

The operation began last April and is closing to wrapping up, depositing more than 10 million cubic yards of sediment, or more than two Superdomes worth of sand and providing for a first line of natural hurricane defense.

"The coastal parishes is what stops the Gulf from getting any further north to New Orleans," said Gordy Dove, the Terrebonne Parish President.

Coastal scientists say the islands also separate salt water of the Gulf of Mexico from brackish marsh to the north, providing the estuary for Louisiana's seafood riches.

"If you lost this barrier island, you would have those Gulf of Mexico waves directly impacting these wetlands and doing more damage on a daily basis," said Darin Lee, a CPRA Coastal Resource Scientist.

For the second time, the state is rebuilding an island by tapping into a huge deposit of sand about 12 miles to the south of the island.

The area, called Ship Shoal, contains tens of millions of cubic yards of sediment from an ancient delta that existed roughly 7,000 years ago at a time when the water level from the Gulf of Mexico was lower. 

Great Lakes Dredge & Dock is mining the material through a giant dredge and pumping it onto the shoreline.

Lee points out the state has been rebuilding islands since the late 1990s with money from various sources, but the Whiskey Island project represents the latest in a string of projects that have built about 30 miles of beach over the course of the last decade.

"This gives us the opportunity to really pump large quantities of sand at one time in one effort," Lee said.

The funding comes from NRDA, the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, designed to compensate for harm done to the environmental during the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Louisiana's coastal marshes and islands are a key focus of the nearly $9 billion BP will pay in fines and penalties for its role in the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

The islands in the Barataria/Terrebonne Basin were heavily impacted by crude oil spilling onto shorelines.

Gordy Dove believes Whiskey Island, together with other restoration efforts and levee projects, represents a commitment to the coast.

"Terrebonne parish, and Louisiana, is here to stay," Dove said.

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