Louisiana will try new approach to building back its coastline

Published: Jul. 19, 2012 at 10:08 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 20, 2012 at 12:07 AM CDT
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A dredge works on a coastal restoration project on Pelican Island, La.
A dredge works on a coastal restoration project on Pelican Island, La.

Myrtle Grove, La. -- Late this year, if all goes well, the state plans to try an untested approach to building back coastline.

Design work could begin as early as next month on a long distance sediment pipeline planned for the west bank of Plaquemines Parish.

The Barataria sediment delivery project aims to feed river mud six miles through a pipe into a few hundred acres of marsh.  Eventually, the state could build branches onto the pipeline, using booster pumps to deliver mud over even longer distances in the Barataria Basin.

Although pipes have been used before in coastal projects, its has never been attempted over those distances.

The sediment pipeline is just one project in what has been a record-setting year for the state's coastal effort.  Work is now underway on projects totaling $200 million, according to Garrett Graves, Chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

"This isn't like a highway project, where folks see their tax dollars necessarily at work right there," Graves said recently.  "This is something that, in many cases, is often inaccessible."

The Louisiana Office of Coastal Activities, which Graves also leads, estimates the state has built 20,000 acres of new land since 2008.  That includes everything from small pipe projects to change the hydrology of a section of marsh to multi-million dollar projects.

Much of the work has been concentrated on the barrier islands, especially those west of the Mississippi River.

The state has tapped into a variety of sources to fund the projects, including federal offshore oil and gas revenues.   Several years ago, Congress set aside one of the first large pots of money dedicated to helping coastal states offset the impacts of offshore production.

The $1 billion Coastal Impact Assistance Fund provided $496 million to Louisiana and 19 coastal parishes.  The state, under a deadline to spend the money or lose it, is rushing to complete a series of projects.

Later this year, Graves says work will begin on a $45 million project to build back Scofield Island in Plaquemines Parish.

In recent years, NOAA and the state have partnered to stitch back together a 20-mile stretch of barrier islands between Grand Isle and the mouth of the river.

To the west, another $70 million project will rebuild 4 ½ miles of beach and marsh on the Caminada Headland that protects Port Fourchon.