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Editorial: Project may benefit wetlands

Last Modified: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 10:20 AM

Innovation continues to be a valuable tool in man’s arsenal to combat nature.

Officials in southeastern Louisiana recently announced plans to construct a 13-mile pipeline to transport sand from the Mississippi River bed to refurbish marshland in Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes.

The project will ultimately created more than 600 acres of new wetlands in the Barataria Basin east of New Orleans.

The initiative mirrors two successful undertakings by the Port of Lake Charles. With approval from the Army Corps of Engineers, the port directed material dredged from the Calcasieu Parish Ship Channel to an area south of the Intracoastal Waterway and about five miles west of the ship channel. It has rebuilt 440 acres of marsh where once there was open water.

Dredging further south on the channel and pipelining the spoils has created an additional 225 acres of marsh in the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge.

Where once the dredged material was dumped along the channel’s banks or deposited in spoil areas that had to be purchased by the port, now the material is being harvested — a necessity to keep the channel open at its prescribed depth of 40 feet — and recycled to restore marsh areas in western Cameron Parish.

The Mississippi River project looks to do the same with a challenging engineering project. The pipeline will be built to go over the river’s levee and under a state highway and railroad before it will be split to transport the sand in two different directions.

Kenneth Bahlinger, project manager for the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said the pipeline will mimic what Mother Nature did prior to the leveeing of the Mississippi River following the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.

Marnie Winter, director of the Jefferson Parish Department of Environmental Affairs, said using Mississippi River sediment makes more sense than moving material from elsewhere.

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said the benefits will be more immediate than freshwater sediment diversion projects that may take decades to produce the desired results.

‘‘The only way we’ll get ahead of the game is sediment pumping from the river,’’ he said.

Only time will tell how well these dredging and pipeline projects will fare, but the early results from this side of the state appear promising and worthy of being repeated elsewhere in Louisiana’s endangered wetlands.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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