Congressional Tour Shows Staffers Why Louisiana’s Working Coast Matters to the Nation
Last week, Restore or Retreat tested the notion of “seeing is believing” by hosting U.S. congressional staffers from both chambers – and sides of the aisle. After a whirlwind 32-hour educational field trip, we are confident our friends left believers in the importance of restoring Louisiana’s coast.
One eye-witness weighs more than ten hearsays — Seeing is believing all the world over. ― Plautus
Following a similar fly-in hosted by the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana last fall, Restore or Retreat began working with our partners, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and Restore the Mississippi River Delta, to plan a spring fly-in. We also worked with our partners at the Greater Lafourche Port Commission (aka Port Fourchon) to host a “working coast”-themed trip to highlight CPRA’s Coastal Master Plan, which is up for renewal this legislative session.
A 32-hour tour
Upon arriving, participants were immediately whisked away from the New Orleans airport to the Davis Pond Diversion Structure along the Mississippi River in St. Charles Parish. There, CPRA officials along with St. Charles Parish representatives, who operate the diversion, described the project’s long history and current management.
Launching from the nearby pump station, a flotilla of airboats toured the diversion’s outfall area, where they learned about the intended consequences of opening the diversion, including increased vegetation and freshwater species, like alligator, as well as the unintended consequences, such as mineral build up and increased soil stability.
Erin Plitsch, CPRA coastal scientist and chair of the Interagency Technical Working Group for both Davis Pond and Caernarvon diversions, showed the group a sediment core from a monitoring station that was once in open water. It was an amazing demonstration of the minerals and organic soil accumulating miles away from the diversion structure, proving a freshwater structure can provide land-building benefits. After visiting other friends in the area, we headed back to New Orleans.
Dinner was a learning experience as well. Dickie Brennan himself greeted us at his Jackson Square restaurant Tableau and provided a passionate welcome. A history and coastal buff, Mr. Brennan educated the group on why and how they can make an impact for coastal Louisiana. David Muth, on behalf of Restore the Mississippi River Delta, provided a wonderful retelling of the delta’s history, and John Lopez of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation discussed how and why sediment diversions can – and should – work in Louisiana. Deputy Director for the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities Chip Kline drove home the importance of Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan and the many reasons why restoration matters not only to coastal Louisiana’s 2 million residents but to the entire nation.
The next morning, the group was up early for a briefing at the Lakefront Airport along Lake Pontchartrain. After a brief history of the art deco masterpiece, guests folded themselves into three volunteer planes with accomplished, veteran pilots. For the next two hours, passengers flew over the Davis Pond project area they’d toured the day before, coastal protection projects in Terrebonne including Morganza to the Gulf and the Bubba Dove floodgate, the thriving deltas of Wax Lake and the Atchafalaya, and back east over the barrier islands and recently completed Caminada Headland Beach and Dune Restoration projects.
Where energy meets environment
The group touched down at the South Lafourche Leonard Miller Galliano Airport and was greeted by Greater Lafourche Port Commission Executive Director Chett Chiasson and Director of External Relations Joni Tuck. Tuck provided a narrated tour of the airport and their recent industry expansions, Bayou Lafourche, Larose to Golden Meadow Hurricane Protection System and Lock and the elevated Louisiana Highway 1.
Port Fourchon’s Emergency Operations Center provided a wonderful backdrop for a presentation on how energy meets environment at Port Fourchon. Chef Ryan Prewitt of Peche joined us in wholeheartedly approving of the Cajun lunch of BBQ shrimp and Ponchatoula strawberry salad. Many folks asked if they could take their award-winning bread pudding “to go” – only in Louisiana! The group was then treated to a waterside tour of the port’s extensive operations and their mitigation plans to accommodate their growth.
The day concluded with a walk on Louisiana’s newest beach and the mouth of historic Bayou Lafourche, the Caminada Beach and Headland restoration. Tanner Johnson from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and representatives from CPRA joined us to show off the pride and joy of Louisiana’s coastal portfolio so far. Our group left with an understanding of how industry can work in partnership with environment, and Port Fourchon is the willing case study to prove it.
Thirty-two hours, four-wheel drive, three growing deltas (Wax Lake, Atchafalaya and Davis Pond mini delta), two bus rides and one guided flyover later, the participants of our trip departed with their toes sandy, bellies full of delicious food and heads filled with ways they can help support their new – and renewed – love for America’s great delta.
The coast is an edgy place. Living on the coast presents certain stark realities and a wild, rare beauty. Continent confronts ocean. Weather intensifies. It's a place of tide and tantrum; of flirtations among fresh- and saltwaters, forests and shores; of tense negotiations with an ocean that gives much but demands more. Every year the raw rim that is this coast gets hammered and reshaped like molten bronze. This place roils with power and a sometimes terrible beauty. The coast remains youthful, daring, uncertain about tomorrow. The guessing, the risk; in a way, we're all thrill seekers here.
― Carl Safina, The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World