Supporters and critics debate the $2.3 billion cost of Louisiana’s largest coastal project

Supporters and critics debate the $2.3 billion cost of Louisiana’s largest coastal project
Supporters and critics debate the $2.3 billion cost of Louisiana’s largest coastal project

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) — On a blustery November afternoon, a boat ride along the east shore of Plaquemines Parish reveals a place where levees no longer confine the Mississippi River.

National Wildlife Federation coastal scientist Alisha Renfro sees Neptune Pass as a living laboratory, a concrete example of how nature intended the river to work.

“Again and again, what we can see along the Louisiana coast, where the river flows in these shallow water areas is actually gaining land compared to almost anywhere else in Louisiana where we’re losing land,” Renfro said.

This new channel that the river has dug in the marsh also arouses controversy.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, fearing the pass would affect navigation in the main body of the river, plans to block most of the flow with a rock barrier across the pass.

The Corps is currently seeking public comment on its plan, which a spokesperson said would return water flow through the channel to levels recorded before the 2019 flood event in Mississippi.

Coastal activists see Neptune Pass as an argument for the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion Project, a much larger man-made channel across the river.

The state has applied for a federal permit for the diversion, which would be built in the Ironton and Mrytle Grove area about 20 miles south of Belle Chasse.

At peak times, the diversion would funnel up to 75,000 cubic feet per second of river water and sediment into Barataria Bay, or nearly an Olympic-sized swimming pool every second.

“That’s what’s so important about these restoration projects is providing that diversity of habitats,” said Erik Johnson, director of bird conservation for the National Audubon Society.

A Corps environmental impact statement estimates the diversion would build 21 square miles of land over 50 years.

Critics point to dredging projects such as Spanish Pass near Venice, where a giant offshore dredge delivered 1,600 acres of new land by pipeline in about a year.

“What would be water one day would have bulldozers on it the next,” said Mitch Jurisich, who chairs the Louisiana Oyster Task Force.

The EIS warns of serious negative consequences for the bay’s oyster beds.

Critics argue for what they see as instant land, built at a higher elevation than the emergent swamp.

At Neptune Pass, Johnson said the free-flowing river “creates both,” a mix of marsh grasses that provide important habitat for ducks and other species, and higher areas lined with growing willows. fast.

“I think two and a quarter billion can allow us to build a lot of land with pumping and dredging,” retorts Jurisich, who wonders about the rising cost of the project.

CPRA puts the total cost, including design, engineering, construction and mitigation, at $2.3 billion.

That compares to an estimate of $1.4 billion as recently as 2017.

“I believe it’s the lifeline of southern Louisiana and it’s worth every penny,” said Chip Kline, president of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Critics point out that other costs are harder to quantify, such as the damage the fresh water would cause to hundreds of bottlenose dolphins in Barataria Bay.

Mitigation costs, which would total $380 million, including everything from paying for refrigeration for commercial fishermen forced to travel farther for their catch to stocking new oyster beds.

“It will destroy the fishing industry, the tourism industry,” said Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser, the state’s highest-ranking official to call on the state to kill the whole idea.

“I can’t understand how anyone thinks creating land over 50 years at sea level gives you flood protection,” Nungesser said.

While dredging actually makes up a bigger part of the state’s 50-year coastal master plan, CPRA leaders point out that these projects are designed to last 20 to 30 years.

Dredging, they say, doesn’t change the forces that have cost Louisiana about 2,000 square miles of land since 1932.

“After a while, as you move away from this restoration project, it starts to settle, it starts to compact, the seas rise and you’ve lost that after 20 years,” Johnson said.

Kline views dredging as a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

“The definition, as we say, of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome,” Kline said. “So we have to change things.”

Next month, at a pivotal time, the Corps will decide whether or not to grant the required permit as it addresses the positives and negatives of the state’s most ambitious plan to reclaim some of its lost land.

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. supporters critics debate cost billion dollars big project coastal louisiana

. Supporters critics debate billion cost Louisianas largest coastal project

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