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Feds, state show off Caminada restoration to celebrate 25 years of coastal restoration program

October 19, 2015 11:19 AM | Deleted user

Article taken from NOLA.com - Caminada Headlands beach, dune and marsh creation projects

Weeks Marine dredging company is rebuilding the beach and sand dunes along the Caminada Headlands in Jefferson and Lafourche parishes with sand mined from Ship Shoal, about 35 miles off the coast. The project is one of the first financed by money paid by BP and Transocean to settle legal issues the BP oil spill. The sand is barged to just offshore of the beach, and then pumped through this 36-inch pipe to the shoreline. The bulldozers help shape the beach and dunes before the pipe is moved to build another segment of beach. Note that in the far background, between the pipe and the moving bulldozers, a coyote is walking in the water along the beach.

Thousands of pounds of sand from the Gulf of Mexico spewed from a pipe Wednesday (Oct. 14) onto the re-growing beach and dunes that makes up the Caminada Headlands, the southernmost edge of Jefferson and Lafourche parishes that protects both rich wetlands just to its north and the nationally important Port Fourchon, jumping off point for deepwater drilling.

Viewing the rebuilding by a team of 80 employees of Weeks Marine, a dredging firm based in Covington, were representatives of five federal agencies and the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority who were on the Elmer's Island segment of the Caminada beachfront to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act.

The project under way Thursday is actually funded by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, with the money coming from the $2.5 billion provided the foundation as part of 2013 settlements of civil and criminal charges facing BP and Transocean, the company that owned the Deepwater Horizon drillship that was at the center of the BP Macondo well blowout and oil spill in 2010.

But CWPPRA, often referred to as the Breaux Act for one of its original sponsors, former U.S. Sen. John Breaux, D-La., is funding the next two phases of the project, the recreation of a marsh platform on the northern side of the beach and dunes.

The first segment of the Caminada Headlands restoration was funded by the state with offshore oil revenue the state received from the federal Coastal Impact Assistance Program and state surplus funds.

The two beach and dune projects represent an investment of more than $200 million. When completed, the 70,000-foot-long by 400-foot-wide combination of dunes and beach will have been rebuilt to as high as 7 feet above sea level with 8.41 million cubic yards of sand mined from Ship Shoal, an ancient barrier island 35 miles south and 30 feet deep.

The CWPPRA project will add about 430 acres of marsh platform for about $31 million. Under the CWPPRA program, the federal government will pay 85 percent of the cost and the state will pay the remaining 15 percent.

The CWPPRA program was proposed by Breaux and former U.S. Sen. J. Bennett Johnston, D-La., and adopted by Congress in 1990.

At the time, it was designed to test the ability of Louisiana officials to rebuild wetlands along the state's coastline by funding small projects, each sponsored by one of five federal agencies: Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Interior's U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources and Conservation Service, the Department of Commerce's National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Funding for the program began at about $30 million a year and now totals over $80 million, with the federal share of the money coming from a variety of small engine fuel taxes. The present version of the law expires in 2019.

Check out a list of all CWPPRA projects.

Over the years, the program's task force, made up of representatives of the federal agencies and the state, have agreed to coordinate its projects with the state's coastal Master Plan, first passed in 2007, and updated in 2012.

"Since 1990, we've undertaken more than $1.5 billion in ecosystem work, and that consistent funding has allowed us not only to build, but also to maintain and monitor these projects over their 20-year life," said Col. Richard Hansen, commander of the Corps' New Orleans District office.  "And that allows us to collect those lessons learned that are now being incorporated into subsequent projects that we're designing and building now."

CWPPRA was the first long-term program aimed at turning back the effects of coastal erosion in Louisiana, and set the stage for the variety of funding sources the state now has available for restoration projects, said Chip Kline, chairman of the state's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

"Until the early 1930s, Louisiana was growing at an average rate of 3/4 of a square mile per year," Kline said. "On that trajectory, we should be 60 square miles larger today than we were in 1930.

"Instead we are about 1,900 square miles smaller. The decline in our wetlands was predictably slow at first, but accelerated in the 1940s, '60s, '70s and '80s," Kline said. "Our warnings and pleas for help fell on deaf ears," until Breaux pushed legislation through Congress setting up the program.

The law also required federal and state officials to begin the process of developing a coastal restoration plan, leading first to the development of the state's Coast 2050 plan in 1998.

The state adopted a formal coastal master plan in 2007, with the goal of appending it to a corps report required by Congress that was to propose potential projects aimed at protecting the state's coastal communities from "the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane."

Since then, the state has adopted annual plans for implementing its master plan that include projects funded under CWPPRA, as well as other federal and state funding streams.

"Since 1990, the CWPPRA program alone has restored over 112,000 acres of land and protected 350,000 acres of land," Kline said. And for many years, CWPPRA was the only funding source for restoration projects, he said.

But while today the state also expects to finance even larger restoration projects with money from various BP oil spill settlements or fines, and from a greater share of offshore oil revenue the state expects to begin receiving in 2017, Kline said Congress needs to reauthorize CWPPRA before it expires in 2019.

"Louisiana can't do this alone and the CWPPRA program can't do this alone, nor should we have to," Kline said. "Louisiana's coast is America's coast, uniquely important to this nation. And only through cooperation and teamwork can we save this vitally important part of this country."

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