BRUNO (Publisher): One reason I find it interesting talking with you is that you know the spectrum of the situation, including a rich understanding of the ecology that has marked our conversations, also the history of the Delta and the pure ecological mechanisms behind it all, including things that you’ve mentioned like that project in Europe. How much you would like to speak about all this up to you.
FOSTER: Right. If you can just stand still for a second, don’t move and I’ll kill that mosquito so it quits bugging us. There you go. Because he was going to be bugging us our whole damn meeting. (laughter). Well alright, just ask me questions and I’ll sort of elaborate as best I can.
BRUNO: Ok, just background. Basically your family and how you got down to Plaquemines.
FOSTER: Well, Bruno, first of all thank you for coming to see us down here at Woodland Plantation, we appreciate it and appreciate your getting other people’s input about a very difficult situation that we find ourselves here in in South Louisiana. As you know our Delta and wetlands are washing away.
I know a lot about this topic because of my ancestors. My dad and his ancestors are from south Lafourche, south Terrebonne, southern Jefferson Parish. My great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather grew up along the barrier islands, Grand Isle, Grand Terre and a few other of the islands that have been washed away by the hurricanes and wetlands loss. When my grandfather moved up, he moved to Crown Point and that was moving to town. Some of my ancestors worked at Manila Village, so I know Barataria pretty well, Barataria Bay, lower Barataria area. I spent all my summers working, hunting and fishing on my grandfather’s farm in Crown Point. I was born in New Orleans, I was only one of six born there.
My father was a fighter pilot, so we moved some. He was also a petroleum engineer. He got his degree from LSU in petroleum engineering. So he went to work for Getty, we moved to Lafayette, he got out of the Air Force and went to work for the Air National Guard and Getty. My grandfather, Foster Creppel, who I was named after, made his money in the oil and gas industry, he had crew boats. He started out peeling shrimp when he was eight years old until he had enough money to trap and he trapped until he had enough money to buy boats, so he started shrimping. He bought crew boats, became a very successful man who ran crew boats for the oil and gas companies. He was not a very educated man, but he was a very smart man. And he bought quite a bit of land in Crown Point. Right along where Bayou Barataria runs into the Bayou des Familles.
There’s a point there, and the reason there’s a point there is because all the sediment that’s carried down by Bayou Barataria ran right into Bayou des Familles, that’s what created the point. Now, they cut that point off for traffic, for large traffic, because it was very difficult to make that turn right there at the point. And he had 300 acres there.
And that’s where I grew up, hunting and fishing, grew up going to shoot ducks in the late 1960s and 1970s, right across Bayou Barataria and the intercostal canal, but it was Bayou Barataria we’d cross in a pirogue and I’d go duck hunting, and that was actually in Plaquemines Parish–I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the delineation of where the two Parishes are, Jefferson and Plaquemines is Bayou Barataria, right there at Crown Point.
BRUNO: What years in that area?
FOSTER: From the time I was born, I’m 56, I was born in 1958.
BRUNO: So you all moved and you’d come back…
FOSTER: We’d come back every summer and I’d go hang out at Crown Point, that’s where I had my first job when I was eight years old. I’d go work with my grandfather, we’d to go mend fences and go run cattle out of the woods and my grandmother would cook delicious meals for us and we’d go catch sac-aulait and perch and green trout, which at the time I didn’t think was the same thing as a bass, because when I was growing up my grandfather called a largemouth bass ‘green trout.’ He called little blue herons ‘cop-cop.’ He called yellow crested night herons “gros bec.” And he called ibis “bec croche” which means “crooked beak. And in his day that was perfectly legal to hunt them. And so I grew up on the delta being raised by a man who knew the waters of the delta as well as anybody. Made his money in the oil and gas industry, and the commercial seafood industry, and owned a bunch of land.
And I learned that those big oak trees – he had a bunch of big oak trees on his land – and on the other side of the bayou, there were no oak trees, it was just freshwater marsh.
This freshwater marsh had a lot of ducks, it had frogs; it had everything you’d have on a freshwater part of a delta, of an estuary. And so I learned that freshwater built this. Freshwater and sediment built our delta. Our delta is not a saltwater delta, our delta is mainly a fresh water delta that was built. The fresh water and sediment of a huge river built this estuary and this delta of south Louisiana.
Then what I also learned was that we clear-cut back in the late 1800s. We clear-cut the cypress swamps, the early 1900s. We clear-cut all of cypress swamps. There’s probably fewer than 15 of the old, virgin cypress trees still living in south Louisiana. It would be hard to find 15, to be quite honest with you. We clear cut those. That’s the first thing we did wrong. Then, we started dredging all the old oyster reefs. We dredged all the humongous oyster reefs, which were right on the outside of Four Bayou Pass– we harvested that one as we’ve harvested all of the large natural wild oyster reefs. Then, in 1928 we leveed the river. Tributaries build rivers. Large tributaries build large rivers. Distributaries build deltas and estuaries. So when we built the levees we got rid of the distributaries. That was the beginning of the end for our delta. Then, the oil and gas companies moved in.
Like I said, my grandfather worked for those companies, he ran crew boats and tugboats for those companies. My dad was a petroleum engineer, so when I talk about the oil and gas industry and the commercial seafood industry, it’s not something I don’t know anything about because I know a lot about it. My family has been in it, and my ancestors were in it. One of the reasons I’m at Woodland Plantation now is because of money that was made in the oil and gas industry by my grandfather and by my father – through my parents.
So then the oil companies came along and we dredged, and drilled, and dredged, and drilled, and so when people say, ‘what’s caused this?’—well, there’s not one group, the blood’s on all of our hands. The reason our wetlands and our delta is washing away is because of a lot of things we’ve done over 150 years. Now, how are you going to fix that? They’ve got the Master Plan, CPRA’s got their plan…you know, Plaquemines Parish has their plan…everybody’s got the plan on how we’re going to fix this delta.
It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take a lot of sacrifice. It’s going to be…and it’s going to take a long time. A lot of times, folks think that we can do this—you know, well, we built this project, and it hasn’t built that much land, and it took 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 years, thousands of years to build this estuary and this delta in south Louisiana. So to think that we can restore it in five, to ten, to 15 years, to 20 years—is ridiculous. When we’re thinking about restoring our wetlands, we have to all realize it’s going to take sacrifice. It’s going to take commitment, it’s going to take will, and it’s going to take a long time. It’s not going to happen overnight. So we’re going to have to have projects that are well thought-out, that we have to be patient with. And that’s what we have to do to understand the whole delta—how it works—to do it.
I’m not somebody who is a proponent of building 150,000 CFS diversions, which I prefer to call distributaries, because that’s what they are. I think it’s, you know—because right now we would be dumping it into a saltwater marsh— because now what used to be fresh and brackish marsh is almost all saltwater marsh. And also, people say, ‘Well, isn’t there too much—there’s too much contaminants, nitrogen and phosphates, and everything else in the river, etc.; you can’t dump that straight into the marsh right now’—and that’s probably true, but we could dump it into an area that we create.
We need to recreate freshwater swamps. We need to put ring levies around areas where we build, where we reintroduce that freshwater to an area where we build a swamp, freshwater swamp. And in those swamps we’re not going to have trout, we’re not going to have a lot of oysters, we’re not going to have—we’ll have some redfish in it, because redfish can tolerate freshwater; we’re not going to have a lot of shrimp, we’ll have some crabs, because crabs like freshwater— but we’re going to have bullfrogs again. We’re going to have ducks and snapping turtles again. We’re going to have muskrat and mink and otters again. We’re going to have alligators, and we’re going to have cypress trees again and we’re going to have coontail grass and widgeon grass, and all of those things that are part of a freshwater region of a delta, of an estuary.
So, I don’t see that in the master plan. Where we’re really emphasizing, and looking at… Okay, this is the beginning of our wetlands restoration, we got to rebuild this freshwater swamp. Because what that does, is, it whacks all the impurities out, those things that are bad for the saltwater swamp, or marsh, are excellent for freshwater.
Along the batture many things grow very well in the river water. Willows grow up to 7 feet a year along tbe batture. So river water might be bad for saltwater marsh but not bad for a freshwater environ- ment. The people who are against these big diversions who say, ‘Well, it’s going to make all the saltwater grass grow too fast, and their roots are not going to be strong enough to withstand hurricanes’—and that may be all true, so let’s not inundate the saltwater marsh. Let’s let that water and those nitrogen, phosphates, and all those things, let’s fertilize them, let us let them work the way they’re supposed to work, in a freshwater environment.
So we’ve got to re-create cypress swamps and freshwater swamps…black water, lagoon, sweet water—that’s what we need, we need some more of that, and those are going to be closer to the river. Now, where we put those, I don’t know, but that’s something we need to talk about, and that’s something that needs to be part of our plan.
[In Part 2 Foster explains how a highly successful aquaculture project in Europe could be a great model for restoration of the Delta.]