NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Each day, thousands of motorists traveling along the I-10 from New Orleans toward Baton Rouge pass alongside one of the state’s first coastal restoration projects.
Just before the interstate briefly skirts Lake Pontchartrain, it cuts through the LaBranche Wetlands.
In that spot in 1994, contractors for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged material from the lake and pumped it onto shore, restoring 480 acres of marsh.
The roughly $3 million in funding came from the Coastal Wetlands Planning Protection and Restoration Act of 1990, or the Breaux Act.
"This was open water," said former U.S. Senator John Breaux as he visited the project recently.
Like other members of the Louisiana congressional delegation 30 years ago, Breaux was scrambling to find some source of funding to begin the process of reclaiming the thousands of acres of land Louisiana has lost this century.
"If we don't have projects like this, some of Louisiana's going to break off and go into the Gulf of Mexico," Breaux said, "and it's never coming back."
The Breaux Act, or CWPPRA as it is often called today, provided the first continuing source of funding for the coast, a fraction of a penny of the federal excise tax on fishing equipment and small engine and motorboat fuel.
Through inflation over the years, the revenue stream has grown to about $70 million a years.
It has funding more than 150 projects over the years, including shoreline protection, wetlands creation through dredging and hydrological restoration.
Notable projects include: the $38 million dollar Bayou Dupont ridge and marsh creation on the west bank of Plaquemines Parish, which created or nourished 390 acres of marsh through sediment pipeline delivery; a $34 million shoreline stabilization project to protect three miles of beach in the Rockefeller State Wildlife Refuge; and a $14 million marsh restoration at Goose Point on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain.
"A hurricane comes and it goes," Breaux said, "but wetland erosion is a silent hurricane that continues on and on and on."
The Breaux Act also sought to break the regulatory logjam that often slows coastal projects.
"It was a real problem because the federal government and the state were always fighting over jurisdiction."
In addition, the various federal agencies with jurisdiction over the coast often clash.
CWPPRA's solution was to put the agencies on same committee, a federal and state task force which decides what projects to approve.
“So, they were forced to work together,” Breaux said.
Congress passed the bill with bi-partisan support and President George H.W. Bush signed it into law.
In the current combative atmosphere of Washington today such cooperation is less common.
“I think it’s changed a lot,” said Breaux, who now works as a lobbyist in Washington. “People, instead of trying to find common ground are willing to fight each other politically and personally and that’s a sad state of affairs.”
The Breaux Act has its limits, funding small or medium-size projects, and not the massive barrier island restorations or larger projects the state envisions today.
However, it provided some of the first money for demonstration projects aimed at learning how to restore coastal Louisiana, including the LaBranche wetlands restoration.
"This is my state," Breaux said. "This is part of Louisiana and I'm glad we're working to make sure it's there for our future generations.'
The project in the Labranche Wetlands has outlived its expected 20 year lifespan.
Today, the CWPPRA task force is examining an even larger project adjacent to the current one.