Interview with Foster Creppel Part 2: Common Ground

,
Foster Creppel - Proprietor of Woodland Plantation (Plaquemines Parish)

Foster Creppel – Proprietor of Woodland Plantation (Plaquemines Parish)

In Part 1, Woodland Plantation proprietor Foster Creppel described how creating freshwater swamps could restore the delta. Here Creppel explains how a highly successful aquaculture project in Spain could be a model.

BRUNO PRAGER (Publisher): I’d like to ask a question here.

FOSTER CREPPEL: Sure, go ahead.

BRUNO: So, those (freshwater swamps) would obviously be located where there are smaller diversions?

FOSTER: Right.

BRUNO: So you’re not proposing that everything along the levee be a freshwater swamp, there’d be some…

FOSTER: No.

BRUNO: There’d be breaks, and it would just be mimicking as much as possible the past ecology. So it’d be adding diversity back, filtering the water, and in other areas there’d be salt water right back up to the levee…

FOSTER: That’s correct. Although we’d prefer not having saltwater reach the river in many places. Unless there was a hurricane or a very high tide, saltwater rarely reached the river 100 years ago.

BRUNO: Right.

FOSTER: When the delta was healthy, and there weren’t any man made levees, the river would spread out and it’s distributaries carried freshwater and sediment out into the delta. Bayou Teche, Atchafalaya, Terrebonne, Lafourche, Barataria, Grand Cheniere, etc., were all distributaries that built South Louisiana’s wetlands.

BRUNO: But recognizing that we’ll never get back to where we were…

FOSTER: That’s correct. If your readers could take a few minutes, check out the TED talk, “How I Fell in Love with a Fish” by Dan Barber… or just look up “Veta La Palma.” It’s an idea of how we might restore our wetlands and build sustainable fish farms at the same time.

Veta La Palma, a fish farm in the south of Spain, is a place Randy Fertel, son of Ruth Fertel, (Ruth’s Chris) introduced me to a few years ago and I believe it has tremendous potential in Louisiana. It’s been developed on a small delta along the lower Guadalquivir River’s floodplain, 28,000 acres—which is not that big compared to our

delta but it’s still a significant piece of property. Many years ago the property was leveed and drained, to raise cattle and horses… it was an ecological disaster, it did a lot of damage to the flora and fauna, and it didn’t work very well as far as raising cattle and horses.
I think you’ve read about it, watched the videos, you understand it. So this environmentally conscious company in Spain – I believe it was a European food company – decided to buy the 28,000 acres in 1982 and reintroduce the fresh and saltwater to the delta and to this estuary and created a fish farm and a bird sanctuary. The river is dirty and contaminated, much like most rivers are worldwide. They take water from the Quadalquivir River and from the Atlantic and filter it through the farm. The rice along with other native plants thrives in the river water and fish grow in the salt water areas of the farm. They essentially rebuilt a natural delta and let everything that grows there naturally, grow. They farm rice, crawfish, eel, catfish, shrimp and sea bass. They don’t feed their fish nor do they keep the predators out. It is a natural farm and is amazingly productive and beautiful. Veta la Palma’s goal is “integrating business management with nature conservation,” and it has been a huge success.

Now, they do manage the water with pumps, earthen ridges, tides and the river flow. It’s Europe’s largest bird sanctuary, 600,000 migratory birds visit the farm every year 250 species. They’re also harvesting 1,500 tons of fish per year. Tourists visit from all over to see this amazing farm, and they have said it is “the largest driver of the local economy generating jobs and wealth.”

And so they’ve rebuilt a natural system and they harvest it just like we would harvest a natural system here. That’s what I would love to see in Plaquemines Parish. It would be a tremendous project and can work. It would put our engineers, surveyors, biologists, farmers, earth movers, commercial fisherman and perhaps a seafood processing plant to work. We would grow rice and crawfish near the river, cypress swamps and fresh water habitats for ducks, mink, and gators. Then we would raise crabs and catfish in the brackish water and redfish and oysters on the outside nearest the gulf.

BRUNO: Minks?

FOSTER: Yes, mink, otter and muskrat…So we’d have– that’s all natural, in the system, those are all parts of the system that we’ve gotten away from, and we can harvest all that, harvest the rice and crawfish, harvest the snapping turtles, alligators, mink and frogs. And then, harvest the crabs, and then, harvest the redfish. And on the outside, when that water flows out of it – this is one of the most important parts—when that water flows out of Veta la Palma, at the southern end, it’s clean. Because it’s been filtered naturally. That’s what a delta is supposed to do; deltas are supposed to filter that fresh water that flows out of the river, and when it gets to the ocean, it’s clean. There are certain plants that need and love the nutrients from that river—not saltwater plants because that’s not going to work so well.

So if we could model a project after Veta la Palma, and build two or three of them on each side of the river, we’d put people to work, we would still harvest everything that’s here, and we could restore our wetlands.

When we think about restoring our delta, we really have to think short-term is the present—30 years. Medium range is 30 to 100. And long- range is 100 years out. The Mississippi delta is a very large place but very vulnerable. It’s a fragile balance between fresh and salt water, organic and mineral sediment, plant life and decay, river stages and tides and father time, lot’s of time. Building a delta is not child’s play. And we can’t do it in a short amount of time. That’s something we have to remember. It’s going to take a long time, and it’s going to take patience, it’s going to take commitment and it’s going to take sacrifice. And it’s going to take limiting what we do, it’s going to take limiting how much oil and gas we extract, it’s going to take limiting how much we can trawl out there, how much we can harvest the oysters. We have to have limits on these things. I mean, I love oysters, shrimp and crab, and I need oil and gas just as much as anybody else. But I also realize that we have to limit it. If we are going to restore our wetlands, we’re going to have to start harvesting in a sustainable manner.

BRUNO: Okay. The unique thing from our conversation has been more the model based off of what worked in Spain. Could you just be a little more specific about the elements of that?

FOSTER: Yes, there are ridges, ponds, berms, bottomland hardwood forests and dry areas. That’s what I’m telling you, a farm like this is going to require survey companies, engineering companies, biologists, scientists… it’s going to take Wildlife and Fisheries, it’s going to take people to plant them and harvest them. There’s going to be a lot to do, it’s going to take people who are rice farmers, people who are in commercial seafood, people who harvest crabs, who harvest redfish—and on the outside, we want to help the environment for the oysters. That’s what I envision here, a healthy system, similar to its natural state, but man-made and manipulated, but all natural. We don’t feed the fish, so there’s no conversion; we let all the predators live, that’s what creates a healthy system. Veta la Palma in the south of Spain, which we want to model this farm after, is a success. No, it’s not going to work exactly the same way here because our biodiversity is different from theirs, but it will work here as well. And we’d be foolish not to try.

BRUNO: Any idea on CFS (cubic feet per second)?

FOSTER: No. Probably not a lot. Maybe 3,000 for a big farm, and not all the time.

BRUNO: For a big farm?

FOSTER: Perhaps a 30,000-acre farm. Biologists
and engineers will determine that.

BRUNO: How many would you foresee being along, ideally, for it to be built…?

FOSTER: I’d like to see several huge farms along the river on both sides. I believe these could coexist with oil and gas industry and the maritime industry. I feel this could benefit oyster fishing, recreational and commercial fishing. We’re not trying to do away with these, we’re trying to coexist, and we’re trying to build this so we can still be here in 50 years, 100 years and 200 years.

One of the things that I have always said is, you know, we will need to create a coalition and we’ve got to get together with all of the groups who are interested in saving our vanishing wetlands. We’ve got to get together with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, the state master plan, etc. – and we need to bring people together because there is a common ground. The common ground is, we all want to be able to catch fish. We all want jobs. We all want our children and our children’s children to be able to catch fish, to eat oysters, to eat shrimp, to eat crawfish, to see the birds and this natural environment that we have taken for granted– that is our common ground: we all want our descendants to be able to enjoy this beautiful delta that we’ve enjoyed. There’s the common ground… So how do we make that happen? That’s what’s going to be tough, that’s where we have an open dialogue.

BRUNO: How does commercial interest and oil – I know you say “coexist”—obviously everybody’s going to take a little sacrifice here, but how big of a sacrifice for those guys?

FOSTER: Oil and gas?

BRUNO: Yeah.

FOSTER: Well, oil and gas…I don’t think it’s going to take a big sacrifice for oil and gas, but they’re going to have to help us backfill canals, that’s one of the most important parts of restoring our wetlands. I mean, I see some big projects out there where we’re building land here, we’re building land here, and we’re building land here—but we still have a canal right through the middle of it, which is allowing that saltwater to rush in and rush out. We need to stop that. We need to stop those canals. If we’re going to build a bunch of land here, then we have to close those canals so that saltwater can’t rush in and out.

BRUNO: And then, the oystermen and the guides who target trout—it seems to me that in a perfect world…these projects are up and down the delta, but you’re also still keeping the launches, the accessibility to trout and redfish would be there…It would be a mix of what we have now with projects like this built up and down the river. The reality is money; you couldn’t build…I guess the question is, how many, what would be the cost of one of these farms?

FOSTER: Oh, I don’t know.

BRUNO: Okay…

FOSTER: I know they’d cost a lot of money.

BRUNO: Yeah. Well then, if BP money is not enough, then…

FOSTER: It might be enough.

BRUNO: But –

FOSTER: To successfully build these farms we will have to have local, state and federal support.

We will also need partners perhaps from the oil and gas industry or a large food company. I think it would be a win/win situation if the oil and gas companies would join an effort like this and help us build one of these farms. That we have come to the point when small communities are suing the oil and gas companies because of wetlands loss and who is responsible, it’s very discouraging. We have coexisted here for as long as we have been harvesting oil and gas, we’ve been partners and we’ve depended on each other. Let’s do something moving forward that is mutually beneficial, this could be it.

BRUNO: If this could be actually started here, and the one in Spain is pretty unique, then there is the possibility that this project might get worldwide attention and drive further interest from abroad in saving the coast.

FOSTER: Veta La Palma is getting worldwide attention and believe me, this one would be a much bigger show. A close friend recently told me industry built this parish; I said no, the river built this parish and all of its diversity and natural resources. Industry has harvested and benefitted from it but did not build it.

A project like this would safeguard nature and provide sustainable development for future generations and after all, isn’t that where we can all find common ground?
[Stay tuned for a follow up next month to this intriguing “Voices of the Coast.” Visit CoastalAnglerNOLA.com for links and content referenced in these discussions.]

Speckled Trout Find Bayou St. John

The test opening of spillway to Bayou St. John.

The test opening of spillway to Bayou St. John.

There are more encouraging developments regarding restoration of Bayou St. John. You may recall that in May of 2014, LPBF had the final vegetation planting of our wetland creation project at the mouth of the bayou on the lake side of the floodgate structure. LPBF initiated monitoring of the vegetation and the plant cover has expanded quickly. Also over the summer, other nice indicators were that baitfish were present and there were often herons and egrets preying on them. This fall we began to observe regular fishers both from the bank and from kayaks. Many folks were making multiple trips. Anecdotal reports were that some fishers were regularly limiting out on speckled trout in October, and that it was evident shrimp were also in the bayou. We even had reports of some redfish hook-ups. The pictures of caught fish here that I’ve seen are trout 12 to 16 inches, which are respectable eating-size. I’ve not heard of any monster trout.

On November 5, 2014, the Orleans Levee Board conducted a test opening of the floodgate to allow water to flow from the lake and into the otherwise landlocked bayou. The opening was for one hour, and went smoothly. We had observers from LPBF, LSU Seagrant, La Wildlife and Fisheries, Orleans Levee Board, and Burke- Kleinpeter. Visually, the opening seemed encouraging. The water flow was vigorous, but not to any extent that might seem to threaten the wetland integrity or other project elements. A video of the opening can be seen on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=fe5bvkbYa6w&feature=youtu.be.

The flow through the floodgate allowed a slight rise in the bayou water level of about 6 inches, but within the pre-established target water elevation range. Biological monitoring was conducted after theopening, but this data has not yet been analyzed.

It is hoped that openings will enhance recruitment into the bayou. The new wetland should help promote this since the marsh should concentrate organisms, which then can be flushed into the bayou during an opening. However, the marsh is still subject to the seasonality of species common to Lake Pontchartrain. During October and November, the trout caught at Bayou St. John was during the fall run of speckled trout. As lake temperatures fall, there will be less activity and less potential for recruitment with floodgate openings. It is still desirable to have openings even during low recruitment periods. The new channel that was dredged at the mouth of the bayou will tend to silt-up from lake wave action. Occasional openings help hydrologically maintain the channel. In addition, a slight elevation in salinity is desirable for the bayou and the connecting City Park Lagoon system. LPBF, UNO and the levee board have established environmental protocols for the opening of the flood gate.

The fall run of speckled trout and shrimp at the Bayou St. John wetlands are very encouraging for the lakefront also. The Orleans lakefront shore line is the historic stepped seawall, which has a great tradition of fishing, but in reality represents relatively low quality habitat for many miles. The Bayou St. John wetland is the only bit of marsh habitat along the otherwise concrete shoreline. The concentration of fish and other species at the bayou is important for habitats, refuge, and food sources, but it is also a destination that fish must travel. In other words, it is hoped that the Bayou St. John wetland improves fishing in general along the south shore.

LPBF has identified other potential wetland creation projects along the south shore. Each one of these projects will incrementally improve lake habitat, fishing recreation, etc. If you wish to support the Bayou St. John project or other similar projects, please contact us at (504) 836- 2215.

I Love Boats, But…

,

abandoned-boats

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] love boating. It’s a great escape. Any excuse will pretty much work for me. I even like boating in the rain – simply because I feel a complete emersion or connection to the water. But some boats, I don’t like. Unfortunately, the Louisiana coast is littered with abandoned, derelict boats. Many are there due to past hurricanes carrying boats from their moorings or harbors and depositing them far away. After Hurricane Katrina, I found my canoe 5 miles away hanging in a tree. I was driving down Highway 11 when it caught my eye… “How bizarre, there’s a canoe in that tree …. wait a minute that’s my canoe!”

I retrieved the canoe only for it to be permanently lost in Hurricane Isaac.

We have all seen the abandoned boats. Often, we see them sticking out of the water covered in slime, or falling apart to become debris on the bottom. Two weeks ago, deep inside a marsh several miles from any water with adequate draft, I saw a 25 foot cabin cruiser lying on its side. It looked so bizarrely out of place – like a whale in a cow pasture. Fiberglass does not biodegrade and so that boat will sit there for decades. These boats are always a bit sad to see for a boater: someone’s lost dream. Nevertheless, the real issues are that the derelict boats can be: a navigation hazard, an environmental threat (fuel, oil plastics), and often a great eyesore. Some abandoned boats have been there so long they’re navigation references, but often they’re just blight on the beautiful marsh that we spend our Saturday’s visiting. I believe most would agree, we have a lot of abandoned boats, and it would be great to remove them, but here’s the rub. It is dang hard to do it.

abandoned-boat2

The cost of removal is not the biggest issue. A key challenge is that boats are registered and that registration is there to protect the owners. No one wants to encourage anyone to take a docked boat simply because someone thinks it’s abandoned. Boats are registered for good reason and there is a process to remove boats, but it is done individually and takes time. Someone needs to ID the boat and report that is abandoned. Then there is a waiting period for someone to claim the boat. After that, the boat may be removed, but often there is a question of access. If private land is going to be used to access the boat, the landowner must grant permission. Additionally, the landowner will likely want security that the land will not be harmed and they will not be exposed to some liability. You see the problem? All of this just to get the “right” to dispose of garbage. And of course, there is the cost. Since there could be hazardous materials, it may require special handling and disposal.

So what’s a possible solution? We need to protect legitimate, responsible boat owners, but find a way to ease the bureaucracy so that true abandoned boats can be removed. First, we need some state legislation which deals with the particular issues of abandoned vessels on the scale of the problem we have. For example, inventory alleged abandoned boats and post these on the internet. Give a 90 day period with aggressive advertising. After the 90 days, the boats are declared abandoned, and parishes, USCG, State agencies are allowed to find resources to remove the boats. Landowners need to be respected, but authorities should find ways of standardizing procedures and protocols so that land owners will understand the rules and try to avoid case-by-case negotiations. Many landowners own large tracts. Possibly make deals to remove boats from an entire tract of land. FEMA and some state funds might be available for specific circumstances. Some states collect special fees dedicated to removal of vessels. No one likes taxes, unless we know they’re going to be used a good, specific purpose. We need to find a means to simplify and fund derelict vessel removal along our coast.

LPBF plans to approach state legislators and state agency officials to discuss how we can find ways to more easily and aggressively remove abandoned boats. There are no good reasons why rational approaches can’t be developed which protect landowners and responsible boat owners, while removing this coastal trash.

South Shore Boat Launches and Fishing Piers

lpbf
by: Dr. John Lopez
Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation saveourlake.org

[dropcap]L[/dropcap]PBF encourages safe and responsible use of our great natural resources in and around Lake Pontchartrain. Convenient and safe access is an important service by local parishes, but these assets are often affected by storms and need to be repaired. LPBF plans continue to report on the status of these community elements so important to Enjoy Our Lake.

There are four major fishing piers dedicated to no-cost public use in New Orleans and East Jefferson, but more than a year after Hurricane Isaac closed the last of them, only the Frank Davis Fishing Pier at Seabrook is up and running.

Two others, the Williams Boulevard (Laketown) Boat Launch in Kenner and Bonnabel Boat Launch in Metairie, are in various states of repair and not expected back on line until mid-November and mid-January, respectively.

Unfortunately, there is still no date for construction of a replacement pier at the New Orleans Municipal Yacht Harbor, where that project remains the subject of sluggish negotiations with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

There is better news, at least in three venues, for boaters wanting south shore access to the lake.

Seabrook Boat Launch and the Frank Davis Fishing Pier – New Orleans
The clean up and minor repairs needed to bring back both the fishing pier beneath the Sen. Ted Hickey (Seabrook) Bridge and the adjacent boat launch are complete, and the operation is in full swing, say inspectors familiar with the work done there after Isaac.

That’s a good thing.

With Municipal Yacht Harbor facilities still out of commission, Seabrook currently provides the city of New Orleans’ only public pier and boat launch along Lake Pontchartrain’s south shore.

The Seabrook launch features three high-water and two low-water back downs, all said to be in good shape and used daily.
There is still a need for an estimated $75,000 to $100,000 worth of work to repair a broken cap atop one of two
Seabrook breakwaters, but since both are fenced, posted and not available to the public, the damage doesn’t stop use of the pier and launch, property managers said.

The area hasn’t been dredged since June of 2005, but management representatives said they have heard no complaints of shoaling and have no plans to dredge.

Williams Boulevard (Laketown) Boat Launch – Kenner
Construction of a new $1.3 million concrete fishing pier was completed in 2010 at this Laketown launch where Williams Boulevard meets the lake. Katrina destroyed the original wooden structure, and the concrete replacement was ostensibly built to withstand a significant storm. Despite improvements, it suffered some damage in Isaac, and now $288,000 worth of work is underway to repair the big pier and add more resilience.

Task Force LLC of Baton Rouge is expected to complete the work by mid- November so that the pier reopens in time for the Thanksgiving holiday period.

The concrete structure actually suffered double-barreled damage during Isaac. Not only did the slow-moving storm’s lingering high water smash large pieces of shoreline rip rap into the pier’s ramps, the deck was also pummeled when a temporary wooden pier – built by the city of Kenner to provide an interim fishing venue after Katrina – broke apart in Isaac.

“We learned some lessons in Katrina about building a pier, and now we’ve learned some more lessons in Isaac, which was a different kind of storm and taught us different lessons,” said Kenner Chief Administrative Officer Mike Quigley.

During this round of repairs, the contractor is lengthening the transition between the land and pier to try and minimize future rip rap damage. And perhaps more importantly, Quigley said there is no longer a temporary structure around to wreak havoc in the next tropical blow.

As for the boat launch, repairs to one of four ramps are to start in mid-October under a 90-day, $125,000 contract with Boh Brothers Construction. Quigley said at least two ramps will remain open and available for use during the work. This contract is not FEMA reimbursable, although FEMA will pay 75 percent of the pier repairs.

The Laketown launch and harbor were last dredged in the summer of 2010 at a cost of more than $726,000, which was recoverable from FEMA. The dredged silt, much of it left by Katrina, was dumped several hundred yards west of the site to help Kenner’s marsh-building initiative. Quigley said he’s heard no reports that more dredging is needed.

Bonnabel Boulevard Boat Launch – Metairie
More convenient to water-users in New Orleans is the Bonnabel Boat Launch just west of the parish line, but repairs aren’t quite as far along there. The t-shaped fishing pier will be repaired by Cuzan Services LLC under a 90-day, $90,800 contract expected to start in mid-October.

After Katrina washed most of the decking off the Bonnabel Fishing Pier, designers planning repairs added a new handrail and pin system expected to better secure the new planking to wooden joists below the structure. And yet, Isaac managed to loosen some decking and damage some joists.

The new repair plan will build in still more robustness, said Leo Webb, deputy director of the Jefferson Parish Recreation Department.

Webb said he’s heard no complaints of silting problems at the launch, but one of the facility’s three 24-foot-wide back downs is out of commission, and one-half of a second one cannot be used either. He said as many as five boats can still be launched using the wide back downs that are still functional, but the parish is looking for grant money or state capital outlay funds to completely replace the 25-year-old launch.

A Coastal Use Permit is in process, but at present, the department has only secured the grant money to replace on back down.

New Orleans Municipal Yacht Harbor (NOMYH)
Meanwhile, the city’s Capital Projects Administration has secured a Coastal Use Permit to build a new fishing pier there, but there is still no agreement on the amount of that project. And until there is a final number, a design cannot be completed. Currently, there is no construction date scheduled, said Taylor Casey, executive director of the NOMYH, which operates and maintains the harbor facilities under a lease with the city.

On a positive note, FEMA has not only agreed to cover the cost of a new pier built to the same dimensions as the storm- wrecked original, it also will allow the new one to be built in a different location north of the boat harbor breakwater, as Casey says was requested by a number of locals.

He said the shift will provide deeper water and better fishing and will be located far enough from the bulkhead that anglers can fish from both sides of the pier, something that wasn’t possible in the old north-west alignment parallel to Breakwater Drive.
The relocation, however, has added an additional wrinkle. The city posits that the realignment necessitates moving the restrooms to a more user-friendly spot nearer the new pier, although Casey said FEMA has not yet agreed to an alternate location. But because the pier design must also include the restrooms, the placement issue must also be settled before the project can move to design and, ultimately, construction.

Irrespective of where they are finally located, Casey said the restroom facility will be built above the new base flood elevation, per FEMA, and in compliance with Americans with Disabilities guidelines.

The Capital Projects Administration previously argued to FEMA that the NOMYH boat launch was also so seriously damaged by Katrina that it, too, deserved federal repair dollars, but FEMA disagreed, declaring it to be a useable structure after the ’05 storm. And it did remain open until last year, when Isaac washed away the remaining supports and so seriously damaged underwater ramps that Casey said all of it had to be closed.

Today, with no money in hand to underwrite boat launch repairs, Casey said harbor owners and operators are looking for financing in a number of places. Application was recently made for a state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ boater access grant to cover 75 percent of the $170,600 needed. A grant determination is due by year’s end.

Casey said funds also were requested in the city’s 2014 capital budget; a similar request last year was not successful. Additionally, the city is working on a separate claim for Isaac damage, but there’s no indication how or when FEMA will respond to the more recent one.

Breakwaters
Owners and operators of all four venues remind the public that breakwaters are fenced and behind locked gates because they are not safe for recreation and, therefore, off-limits to the public.

That prohibition does not, however, apply to fishing from “the point” of Breakwater Drive that juts into the lake, an area that for decades has remained as popular with anglers as with teenagers seeking patches of privacy and moonlight.
At Municipal Yacht Harbor, public access is denied to the fenced off breakwater at the closed boat launch, but Casey said his group has no plan, no desire and not even any authority to restrict access to Breakwater Drive and its popular “point.”

“I want to be clear that in spite of concerns that cropped up in the past, we have no intention of shutting off access to Breakwater Drive and the point,” he said, stressing that the roadway is under New Orleans Public Works Department jurisdiction.
“It’s a public roadway. Restricting it wouldn’t even be our call, and as far as I have heard, no one who could restrict it has plans to. People fish there day and night.”

What’s the status of BP funds for Restoration in Coastal Louisiana?

, ,

restoration

By Dr. John Lopez
Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation
saveourlake.org

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he vivid memories of the underwater blowout and horribly oiled pelicans can never really go away from our memories, but the intricate, slow process of restitution for the country’s largest oil spill taxes our attention. Here is a brief summary of the glacial progress toward some ”BP funding” of coastal restoration in Louisiana. At this time, a “global” settlement between BP and public agencies has not occurred. Thus, to understand the financial settlement requires looking at the various component processes that may lead to BP funding coastal restoration. There are several.

NRDA (Natural Resource Damage Assessment)
NRDA happens behind closed doors with State and Federal representatives meeting with BP officials. The first goal is to assess the actual impacts to the natural environment. This involves all five Gulf Coast states involved with the spill, and so involves lots of lawyers and scientists discussing the finest details of what may or may not have happened to the environment. Once they determine the damage, a dollar amount is set for what it will take to make the environment “whole”. This is simply some theoretical estimate to pay for improvement to the environment as equivalent to the overall damage. That is not the same as everything going back exactly as it was before. That is often not possible or impractical. For example, if 100 acres of marsh were severely damaged by the oil, NRDA would require 100 acres be replaced, but it could be at a different location. In the end, NRDA is sort of a ledger for accounting of new projects offsetting acres of lost habitat. Little is known about the status of the assessment. None of the official NRDA data is released to the public.

Early NRDA
IN 2011, BP announced it would fund $1B in “Early NRDA”. These were projects which would be funded before the official NRDA process was completed. It was intended to jump-start the restoration process. After 2 years, BP has only agreed to fund a handful of small projects. There is apparently a lot of argument over the crediting of the ledger since these projects would ultimately count toward the overall NRDA damages. In Louisiana, several oyster plant projects have been funded, a marsh creation project and some barrier island projects. The total Early NRDA funds for Louisiana so far are merely??? It appears that the Early NRDA is actually late, and the regular NRDA much later.

Criminal Settlement
BP bought a get-out-of jail-card by agreeing to pay $4b to the Federal government. For that payment, the Feds terminated their investigation into criminal wrongdoing during the oil spill. $2.4B of this is going to the five Gulf Coast states, but half to just Louisiana. Louisiana will be receiving $1.2B over the next few years. The settlement states that the funds must be used for barrier island restoration or river diversions. The twist to this is that the funds are being administered through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). This is a non-profit designed to be an intermediary to fund environmental restoration throughout the U.S. NFWF has never handled such a large amount of funds and is developing its processes to distribute the money in accordance with their rules and the Federal settlement.

RESTORE Act
The RESTORE Act was passed by Congress and requires that 80% of the civil fines against BP be used for Gulf Coast restoration. The civil fines are a dollar amount charged for each barrel of oil spilled. The normal penalty is $1,000/barrel but, if the government determines that BP was grossly negligent, the fine would be $4,300 per barrel. BP is arguing that they were not grossly negligent and are also challenging the estimated volume spilled. The civil fines are likely to be as much as $16B, but the fines are likely to be less. 80% of this amount goes to the RESTORE Council who will ultimately oversee use of this money for Gulf Coast Restoration. The Council is required to follow various pre-set allocations. About 1/3 of the funds would be disbursed using a “Comprehensive Plan” of restoration for all five states. A draft of this plan is due in August, and should be available now. Nevertheless, the funds are essentially not yet available because the BP trial will determine the “gross negligence” and, therefore, the final amount. The first part of the trial was concluded and is scheduled to resume in September. The trial will likely continue into 2014. So restoration must wait.

Creation Project: A project of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, Restore the Earth Foundation and Orleans Levee District

,

By Andy Baker M.Sci.
Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation
saveourlake.org

The Project

Bayou St. John was the original route taken by French explorers in 1718, who camped on its banks before settling in what is now the French Quarter in New Orleans. Though it has lost its original wild beauty, it is a vital part of the urban landscape and an official ’scenic river’ that is next to City Park. There is an ongoing movement to restore the bayou’s ecology, and several recent projects have re-established some water flow and fish migration from Lake Pontchartrain.

Most of the bayou is within the levee system around New Orleans, with a flood gate where it meets Lake Pontchartrain. Within the flood gate and obsolete rock damn across the bayou is being removed and will reconnect two segments of the bayou. In addition, several hydrologic stations have been established to monitor the water in the bayou and eth City Park lagoons.

See water station data go to http://waterdata.usgs.gov/la/nwis/current/?type=quality&group%20Key=basin%20cd

In the spring of 2013, the Orleans Levee District will dredge a small channel from the flood gate to the lake to improve water flow by occasionally opening the flood gates when water levels are safe. The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation will beneficially use some of the dredged sediment to create a half acre of wetland along the banks which will attract crabs and fish. Sheltered from waves and accessible to the public, the mouth of Bayou St. John is an ideal place to create wetlands. A half-acre pocket of living marsh within the 10-mile concrete seawall will improve water quality and provide habitat for fish, crabs and birds. This natural space where the bayou meets the lake will benefit residents and visitors as an outdoor classroom, bird watching site and fishing spot. Restoring wetlands to the urban lakeshore is a positive step on the road to saving Lake Pontchartrain. The site should be an ideal location to fish from a kayak or canoe.

bayouplan

 

To Divert or Not to Divert: Our Future Hangs in the Balance

,

We can all agree that coastal restoration is about more than catching speckled trout. It’s about saving our communities, our coastal infrastructure, our coastal heritage, and our coastal fisheries. There are a limited number of tools in the coastal restoration tool box. The costs vary and the usefulness varies, but all have both good and bad consequences. Placing rock along the shorelines slows erosion, but it disturbs the critical fringe marsh zone that is so important for interaction of open water with the marsh. Pumping sediment creates new marsh, but leaves a deep hole where the material is taken that may become low in oxygen and is very expensive. There are always trade-offs. Folks involved with planning and building restoration projects have concluded that the good benefits of that approach will outweigh the bad.

todivertornot
Most of the ongoing discussion in coastal restoration concerns building diversions verses pumping sediments. Pumping sediment provides more immediate but also more finite benefits, and it is expensive. Diversions can provide more sustainable benefits, but it takes longer to begin to see benefits. They can also change the fishing or have other negative effects. These are the normal give and take in the ongoing discussion, but other questions have been raised. For several years, LPBF has worked diligently to get a better understanding of diversions by studying those that already have a track record. Mostly, we have worked in the Bohemia Spillway and the Caernarvon Diversion, but we are aware of the record of others such as Wax Lake Delta, Atchafalaya Delta, Violet Siphon, etc.

The question is often asked: “Is the dramatic land loss which occurred near the Caernarvon Diversion during Hurricane Katrina somehow an effect of the Caernarvon Diversion?” The type of loss during Hurricane Katrina was very similar to the loss that occurred from Hurricane Betsy, but the loss from Betsy was much less than that from Katrina.

The map below of the Caernarvon area illustrates some key features. The prominent hurricane scars are not present in a zone around Bayou Mandeville(brown line) which is well known to carry most of the Caernarvon Diversion flow. Also, there is clearly a sediment pile in Lake Lery forming a basis for new wetlands. Of course, within Big Mar, LPBF has well documented the rapidly growing delta there and are even planting a cypress forest on that delta (see Saveourlake.org > Coastal >Technical Documents). Nevertheless, the hurricane scars are present around this zone of sustained marsh and it is still unclear whether some amount of that scarring may be related to the Caernarvon flow beyond where it is sediment enriched.

The Caernarvon “freshwater” Diversion is clearly providing some strong positive benefits to the wetlands in the outfall area where sediment and nutrient concentration is high. Where sediment concentration is lower, it is simply unclear if the nutrients are having a net positive or negative effect. Vegetation tends to re-grow quickly here, but not within the deep hurricane scars.

At Caernarvon, it took 13 years before land building began to be visible in 2004, but at Wax Lake Outlet, it took 30 years for it to start building a delta (1973). Wax Lake Delta now has 40 years of growth. Considering Caernarvon as a “Freshwater” Diversion that has been operated for just 21 years, and has never been operated to optimize sediment introduction, it is remarkable to see what benefits it is providing.

The Bohemia Spillway was created in 1926 when river levees were removed and, since then, has allowed the river to naturally overflow its banks. The land loss here is dominantly due to oil canals and shoreline erosion along the sound. The rates of loss have been reduced to the point that these wetlands will persist for hundreds of years under current conditions. The details are unclear, but somehow the river water is sustaining these wetlands.

Let’s consider the alternative: pumping sediment to build wetlands. The map of Barataria Basin below shows the cumulative land loss in red. This landscape’s extent of collapse is startling and well known (Note the stark contrast to the Bohemia Spillway map.) On the Barataria Basin map, the yellow box is 3 miles by 3 miles. How much would it cost to rebuild the 9 square miles with pumped sediment? Based on the cost of 45 marsh creation projects in the CWPPRA program, the average cost is $70,000 per acre. Nine square miles is 5,800 acres, which means the cost of that yellow square in a sea of red land loss is $400,000,000. Ten of these squares would cost $4 billion.

The State Master Plan illustrated the economic effectiveness of diversions. The $4.5 billion to build diversions will build more land than $15 billion in projects pumping sediment. Yes, building land with diversions will take longer, and there will be some negative effects. But the positive benefits will far outweigh the negative, and we can’t afford the pumping alternative alone. The State identified the areas where it is most important to rebuild wetlands quickly for storm surge buffering, and this is where sediment pumping

projects are planned. Where the river is available and there is a need to rebuild wetlands, river diversions must be used because we need to take advantage of the lower cost to re-build wetlands. The new “Sediment Diversions” will be built and operated to optimize sediment transport and will dramatically improve the positive land-building effects, which will, as a result, outperform Wax Lake Outlet and the Caernarvon Freshwater Diversion.

We must build sediment diversions, but it must be done with eyes wide open to the full effects of land loss or gain, fisheries changes, etc. It is likely that a diversion of approximately 75,000 cfs will be built on the east or west bank of the river, and be completed in about 5 years. In the meantime, expect continued collapse of our wetlands except in a few areas such as Wax Lake, Caernarvon and Bohemia where river water is already sustaining the wetlands. Diversions are our best chance to sustain our coast against the onslaught of sea level rise, subsidence and so forth. In the end, this will save our communities, coastal infrastructure, our coastal heritage, and our coastal fisheries.

By John A. Lopez, Ph.D.
Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation
saveourlake.org

Gulf Governors Act to Solve Snapper Crisis

,

Letter to Congressional leadership calls for state-based management of troubled species

HOUSTON (4-17-13) – The governors of four Gulf states released a JOINT LETTER to the leadership of the U.S. House and Senate today that states current federal management of Gulf red snapper is evidence of a system that is “irretrievably broken,” and calls for passage of legislation that would replace it with a coordinated Gulf states partnership for red snapper management.
“The Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery has a historic and significant economic benefit to the Gulf coastal states and the nation. However, federal management conflicts impacting both the commercial and recreational sectors have created a situation that is negatively impacting the coastal economies and citizens of our states,” states the letter signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida and Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi. “With a stock that is recovering steadily, our recreational anglers are being allowed to fish less and less, and there is no hint of willingness from NOAA Fisheries to deviate from this present, unsatisfactory course. As governors of Gulf states, we believe this confusing management is just the latest evidence of a federal management system that is irretrievably broken.”

The governors’ letter calls on Congress to establish a better fishery management approach for Gulf red snapper based on interstate management measures coordinated by the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, citing their belief that a coordinated Gulf states partnership would be more capable of delivering a robust fishery that is more accessible for their citizens.

“By encouraging Congress to allow the states to effectively manage red snapper and pass legislation to give the Gulf coastal States management authority for this resource, the governors clearly share our desire for a new vision in fisheries management,” said Venable Proctor, chairman of CCA National. “The federal system has had decades to get this fishery on track, and yet it still insists on a path that leads inevitably to a dead- end. We are grateful to the governors for promoting a viable alternative for fisheries management, and we look forward to working with Congress to see that this sensible management model becomes law.”

Federal management of red snapper reached a new low in 2013 when the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council announced a 27-day season, even though the snapper population appears to be booming. In response, Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi have announced various actions to join Texas’ long-standing rejection of federal regulations in state waters, prompting federal authorities to prepare punitive measures for those states. According to current projections, Texas recreational anglers would have a 12-day snapper season in federal waters, Louisiana anglers would have nine days and Florida anglers 21 days.