Grand Isle struggles to repair its damaged “burrito” levee

Mayor fears another storm could "cut the island in two"
Updated: Jun. 24, 2020 at 9:24 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - A couple weeks after Tropical Storm Cristobal, officials on Grand Isle are struggling to repair the levee that protects the island’s Gulf side.

“Anything better than a tropical storm, this whole levee’s gone,” said Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle, who fears a stronger storm later in the summer could cut the island in two.

A decade ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers installed the so-called “burrito levee,” a $50 million project to stuff sand into a synthetic material and surround it with a man-made dune.

Tropical storms and hurricanes have damaged the levee on multiple occasions.

“Where you’re standing at here in the center is nothing but sand inside that tube,” Camardelle said. “You cut a hole, it’s like sugar pouring back into the Gulf.”

The state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which has sent surveyors to estimate how much sand washed away, estimates repairs to the levee could cost between $5 million and $10 million.

One possible solution could involve a $15 million Corps project already underway to install breakwaters and replenish the beach with sand.

“We have looked at several options for immediate repairs to the exposed areas of the levee,” said Ricky Boyett, a Corps spokesman.

“Unfortunately, any alternative for immediate repair, such as rock placement, would only be temporary yet would exhaust the funding available for completion of the ongoing breakwater and sand nourishment project,” Boyett said, noting that breakwaters offer a more permanent solution.

The sand nourishment portion of the project could include repair to the exposed sections of levee.

However, Boyett said before the Corps can before contractors can begin the sand nourishment element of the project, “we must first complete the required NEPA (environmental) assessment to clear the Caminada borrow pit.

The pit where the Corps would dredge for the material is conveniently adjacent to the island, but federal environmental law would require the study since it has never been used before.

Boyett said the Corps is looking at ways to speed the process.

“It’s frustrating the breakwaters weren’t in place during Cristobal,” said Bren Haase, Executive Director of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

“It’s extreme urgency,” Haase said of the need to repair the levee.

Haase said the state also was looking at ways to expedite the repairs.

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