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Neighbors outside the New Orleans levees plead for more natural storm defenses

The 2020 hurricane season claimed more marsh around the Irish Bayou community
Published: Aug. 27, 2021 at 7:16 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 27, 2021 at 7:52 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -Nick Stoltz and some neighbors in the Irish Bayou area of New Orleans take a bumpy ride into Lake Pontchartrain.

“When the winds blow from the northeast, this side is rough,” Stoltz said.

Stoltz, A.E. Briede, and Richard Bruno have been friends since school days in the 1960s.

Today, they are united by Louisiana’s ongoing fight against coastal land loss and the threat it poses to their homes.

“Last year, this land disappeared,” said Briede, pointing to an area of open water which was land a year ago.

They estimate back-to-back-to-back storms of 2020 claimed another three or four acres of land in the area, which hugs La. Hwy. 11 and the approach to the I-10 Twin Spans Bridge.

“It’s happening quicker now,” Briede said. “I think the lake is just stronger than the marsh and the marsh needs some protection.”

Outside the New Orleans hurricane protection system, Irish Bayou has always been exposed.

However, Stoltz said, the land loss here is not simply an issue for the couple dozen elevated homes that straddle Hwy. 11.

On rare occasions, water has lapped over part of the I-10 at the foot of the Twin Spans, most recently during last year’s Hurricane Zeta, Stoltz said.

“When we get a surge of about 8 feet, the foot of the I-10 will be underwater and you won’t be able to use it anymore,” Stoltz said.

Levees.org, the activist group formed after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, has raised similar concerns in the past.

“It’s likely that waves could readily crash over the roadway right where the road and the bridge meet,” said H.J. Bosworth, a civil engineer with the group.

Bosworth sees a weak link in the region’s otherwise vastly improved hurricane protection, a just over a one-mile stretch of interstate between the levee and the foot of the Twin Spans.

“In the late portion of the evacuation, you could have cars being hit by waves right there on the interstate,” Bosworth said.

He believes a four-foot sea wall along the travel lanes would provide a simple fix.

Just south of Irish Bayou, the government already installed some protection for the marsh.

Rocks that line a portion of the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge seem to make a difference.

Neighbors had hoped to appeal to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority meeting this month for similar protection.

However, the meeting was posted.

A CPRA spokesman said the group can still make their case and the agency will consider their hope for an extension to the rocks or a dredging project to restore the marsh.

With finite resources, that can be a years-long process, competing against many other projects for funding.

“We have to keep the marsh,” Briede said. “This is the city of New Orleans. We’re in Orleans Parish.

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