Gulf of Mexico
A dredge in the Mississippi River near Venice, La., pumps sediment from the bottom July 21. A pipeline carries the sediment to create 7 miles of new marshes and ridges, starting near Venice. (AP/Janet McConnaughey)

LA - Big Louisiana coastal restoration projects shore up hurricane defense

Big Louisiana coastal restoration projects continue by

BELLE CHASSE, La. -- Louisiana has completed one of its biggest coastal restoration projects yet and is at work on even bigger ones.

The dredge used to suck up sediment from the Gulf of Mexico to add 1,000 acres of habitat to sites in the Terrebonne Basin is now at work in the Mississippi River, doing the same for a 1,600-acre project that's further east and named for a historic Plaquemines Parish outlet called Spanish Pass, officials said recently.

"These are key examples of our frontline defense" against hurricanes, said Bren Haase, executive director of the state Coastal Preservation and Restoration Authority.

They had been eaten away by erosion and subsidence -- and by sea level rise, which, like hurricanes, is made worse by climate change.

On July 26, the authority announced completion of another project -- the addition of about 256 acres of beach and dune and 143 acres of marsh on West Grand Terre Island.

Barrier islands and marshes slow storm surge, so the work protects people and buildings on shore while providing habitat for plants and animals.

The Spanish Pass project starts just outside the Plaquemines Parish town of Venice.

The fragility of the wetlands fringing Louisiana's coast was illustrated less than a minute by seaplane from the project's west end. In that spot, trees grow in parallel lines on relatively high ground in open water. They mark the banks of canals dredged through marshes that no longer exist.

The state's biggest restoration project so far was 1,200 acres completed in 2010 in the upper Barataria Basin, the authority's deputy director, Greg Grandy, said in an email. And work began in January on the nearly 2,800-acre Lake Borgne Marsh Creation project near Shell Beach in St. Bernard Parish.

"The more land I have between me, wherever I'm standing, and the Gulf of Mexico as a hurricane is approaching, the better I feel, the better off we are," Haase said. "Those natural barriers are very, very important."

The Terrebonne Basin project increased the size of Timbalier and Trinity-East islands and West Belle Headland as well as creating 8.6 miles of beach. It took about two years, partly because of hurricanes in 2020 and 2021.

Hurricane Zeta in 2020 and Hurricane Ida last year both crossed the work area, Haase said.

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