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Office of Coastal Management

Consistency Section

Major Issues and Projects

 


Marsh Buggy Impacts

Link: Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format View Impacts Document

Operating in a wetland environment can be very difficult. Equipment used for construction, supply, or moving personnel can do severe damage to fragile marsh. Vehicle tracks kill vegetation and destroy the roots which bind the marsh together, compress soils, and create channels which alter wetland hydrology and can allow salt water and tidal energy access to the interior of the marsh. Tracks may take decades to recover, if ever. After a number of episodes where unnecessary impacts were observed by Coastal Management Division personnel, CMD convened an interagency working group to compile a set of standards for operating vehicles in the marsh. This guidance is intended to be used by applicants, their field personnel, their contractors (from management down to field equipment operators) and regulatory personnel.

Beneficial use of dredged material

Always a major concern to Consistency Section, the Louisiana Coastal Resources Program requires that sediment dredged in the creation or maintenance of channels in the Coastal Zone be used beneficially for wetland enhancement, restoration or creation. On a dollar per acre basis, it is the least expensive means of restoring our deteriorating coastal wetlands. There are ten federally-maintained navigation channels in the Louisiana Coastal Zone, and about half of the sediment dredged to keep these channels open is used beneficially. We continually work to urge and assist the Corps of Engineers to overcome budget and policy constraints to increase the beneficial use of this valuable resource. We do this through helping to identify and obtain permission for the Corps to use beneficial disposal sites, discouraging the use of upland or offshore disposal of sediment, recommending ways and means to use material beneficially, and sharing the additional costs of beneficial use (see the comments on the Continuing Authorities Program, below).

Continuing Authorities Program

In many cases the additional cost of using dredged material beneficially is beyond the budget the Corps of Engineers has allocated to the project. The Continuing Authorities Program offers a way to obtain the additional funds necessary through various Congressional authorities, such as §204 and §1135 of the Water Resources Development Act. These authorities permit the Corps, with a local sponsor sharing 25 % of the additional costs, to use dredged sediments to create and restore wetlands. Louisiana has set aside $1 million per year to match the federal contribution, and in partnership with the Corps has completed 16 projects since 1990 along the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, Barataria Bay Waterway, Houma Navigation Canal, and Calcasieu Ship Channel.

Recently, however, because of budget shortfalls, Corps of Engineer Headquarters revoked approximately 26% of the money allocated to the New Orleans District for Continuing Authorities projects for Fiscal Year 2000, forcing the suspension of about 12 beneficial use projects in the planning stages. The situation appears to be equally bad for FY 2001, as funding appears to be set at levels similar to FY 2000.

Breton Island Restoration

Breton Island is a National Wildlife Refuge, and is the southernmost of the Chandeleur Islands, a barrier island chain east of the Mississippi River delta. The Chandeleurs have been eroding rapidly, and Breton Island has gone from 820 acres in 1869 to only 125 acres in 1996. In late 1998, Hurricane Georges did severe damage to the island, leaving only a few remnant islets which were riddled with breaches. It was clear that, without help, Breton Island did not have much longer to live.

Breton Island in 1995 Breton Island after Hurricane George, Feb. 2000

 

Georges also moved a great amount of sediment across the sea floor, plugging the nearby Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet. Emergency dredging was proposed to clear the channel, and it was realized that this material could be used to help repair some of the damage to Breton Island. A great many regulatory and administrative hurdles needed to be cleared, however, and the dredging couldn't wait for long. Funding through §204 of the Water Resources Development Act was sought, requiring a Feasibility Study and agreements with DNR as the Local Sponsor. Approval for work on the Wildlife Refuge; preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement; design of the project to satisfy environmental concerns of multiple agencies; writing, advertising and awarding contracts; and yes, preparation of a Consistency Determination, all needed to be accomplished in record time. Consistency Section was DNR's representative to the team of state and Federal agencies who came together to clear the path through the myriad rules and regulations which might inadvertently have prevented the restoration from going forward.

The interagency team was successful, and in October of 1999, the initial phases of the Breton Island restoration, plugging the breaches through the northern islet, were completed. As a result, the team has been notified that it will receive a Partnership Award from the Breton Island is a National Wildlife Refuge, and is the southernmost of the Chandeleur Islands, a barrier island chain east of the Mississippi River delta. The Chandeleurs have been eroding rapidly, and Breton Island has gone from 820 acres in 1869 to only 125 acres in 1996. In late 1998, Hurricane Georges did severe damage to the island, leaving only a few remnant islets which were riddled with breaches. It was clear that, without help, Breton Island did not have much longer to live.

There is an unfortunate postscript to this story, however. The suspension of the Continuing Authorities Program for FY 2000 (and perhaps 2001) have placed further work for Breton Island on indefinite hold. Hopefully hurricanes will leave the island alone long enough to bring the project back on track.

NOAA Report: National Coastal Program Dredging Policies

The Coastal Programs Division of NOAA's Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management has recently published a report on the policies of coastal states, commonwealths, and territories of the United States. It cites Louisiana as having "...perhaps the most advanced beneficial use program in terms of need, intent and coordination." A copy of the report can be found here.