“Diversions aren’t the answer.”May 6th, 2013 | By Jessica Gonzalez | Category: top story
Hundreds of concerned fishermen attended the second meeting of the Save Louisiana Coalition last Monday night to get informed on what coalition leaders say is the biggest issue facing fisheries today: large-scale freshwater and sediment
The Louisiana Coastal Master Plan, approved last year, has several large-scale diversions slated for Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes. One planned for the
Plaquemines/St. Bernard border in Braithwaite will flow 250,000 cubic feet of
freshwater and sediment per second into the area’s marshes. That planned project is the same capacity of the Bonnet Carré spillway.
A 50,000 cfs diversion planned for the Myrtle Grove area has already gone out to bid.
“We’re not fully against the master plan, we’re totally opposed to any new diversions,” said Mike Lane, one of the organizers of the Save Louisiana Coalition. “I had a long conversation with Garrett Graves [Chairman of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority] and he told us that the plan might
displace people, displace communities, but they’re going to do it anyway.”
Proponents say the diversions are designed to allow freshwater and sediment to flow into the marshes to re-nourish them. The marshes have been cut off from
nourishing river sediment over the last 100 years by levees and other manmade
structures. They also say that these diversions are the most cost-effective and sustainable way to combat erosion and subsidence.
However, opponents of diversions—largely commercial and recreational fishermen, marina owners, shrimpers and oystermen, say that these diversions are a risky experiment that could wipe out their livelihood.
“They’re basing this on theoretical science that relies on computer modeling,” said Clint Guidry, President of the Louisiana Shrimpers Association. “The guy
who designed this plan, if it doesn’t work, his life who designed this plan,
if it doesn’t work, his life will go on… we will suffer forever.”
Their alternative is marsh creation by way of year-round sediment-dredging from the floor of the Mississippi River. They say that dredging creates land in years,
where diversions are estimated to take decades– around 20 – 40 years– to see results.
“Base the goals on land built, not hypotheticals,” said Dr. Pat Fitzpatrick, an associate research professor at Mississippi State University. Fitzpatrick says
that the State Master Plan’s emphasis on large-scale diversions is flawed, one reason being that river water is not as sediment-rich and healthy as it was 100 years ago.
Currently, the state operates three freshwater diversions– one at Davis Pond near Lafitte, one near Bayou Lamoque in Plaquemines and the other in Caernarvon near the St. Plaquemines/St. Bernard border.
Fitzpatrick said that some of the worst erosion of the last decade has been in the area impacted by the Caernarvon Diversion. Fitzpatrick says that area’s erosion has a direct correlation to harmful chemicals in the river water.
“The Mississippi River has fertilizers and pollutants in it, and organic-based soil, which is what Delacroix has, is very sensitive to fertilizers,” he explained.
He said that when plants have easy access to fertilizers, they do not grow deep roots. And when strong storm surges move through, they easily rip the plants from the soil base.
Coalition leaders and fishermen who have navigated area waters for generations
say that the Bayou Lamoque diversion in Plaquemines–an 8,000 cfs (cubic feet of water per second) diversion– is directly responsible for low oyster counts in the area. The diversion is still open today.
Jody Donewar, a Plaquemines-based boat captain and charter guide, says that since the oil spill in 2010, the Bayou Lamoque diversion has been opened at full capacity to combat post-oil spill erosion.
“In three years, it’s killed every oyster,” said Donewar. “During the spill, I
took Diane Sawyer’s news crew out there to see effected sites, and I can tell you for
a fact that no oil was even in this area.”
Donewar continued, “You pull them [oysters] out of the water and there’s
no sign of life on the shell; it looks like the whole batch has been rinsed off
with a garden hose. It’s like trying to catch speckled trout in a desert out there.”
At the April 25 PPC meeting, District 7 Councilman Jeff Edgecombe introduced
an ordinance opposing the construction of any more freshwater and sediment diversions until scientific evidence proves that they will not adversely affect the commercial and recreational fishing industries in Plaquemines Parish.
The St. Bernard Parish Council passed similar legislation last month.
Parish President Billy Nungesser and St. Bernard Parish President Dave Peralta have spoken out against the large-scale diversions. Plaquemines Parish Coastal Director P.J. Hahn was in attendance at Monday’s meeting and said that coalition
had he and President Nungesser’s full support.
Hahn and St. Bernard Parish President Dave Peralta both commended the crowd; both said they were encouraged to see so many—commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen, charter guides, marina owners, land owners— all gathered together for one cause.
“We all represent different groups, but this is the first time I’ve seen everyone together,” said Peralta. “Politicians listen to numbers. This is what will make us win.”
Plaquemines Parish’s own Coastal Master Plan
Last year, the council approved a $65 million bond to fund the three-phase
Plaquemines Parish Coastal Restoration Plan that includes building berms and barrier islands, as well as island and ridge restoration. President Nungesser says that he is working with the Corps of Engineers and is close to getting Phase 1 Corps certified.
Phase 2 of the parish’s Coastal Plan includes barrier island and ridge restoration
that will start once phase 1 is complete. Phase 3 is the building up of the outer barrier islands.
Right now, the permitting, surveying, geotechnical and engineering activities for four reaches of ridge and marsh creation are underway: Reach A (Port Sulphur to Empire), Reach B-1 (Empire to Ft. Jackson), Reach C (Phoenix to Bohemia), and
Reach 1 (Braithwaite to White Ditch).
The parish is also investigating the feasibility of a 35/65 cost sharing agreement with the Corps of Engineers for dredge material. If finalized, the Corps would cover 65 percent of dredging costs and supply the parish with the material, and the parish would pick up the other 35 percent of the tab.
“It’s a no brainer,” said Councilchair Byron Marinovich. “And a win-win for the parish and the Corps– they can help us by giving us some dredge material and we can start working on some of the these restoration projects.”