Delta Dispatches: Louisiana’s Working Coast
We’re happy to welcome Lacy McManus and Joni Tuck to the show today. Lacy is the Director of Program Development of GNO Inc. and talks with Jacques and Simone about the economic case for restoration in Southeast Louisiana. In the second half the show, Joni sits in studio to chat about Port Fourchon & The Working Coast. Joni Tuck is the External Relations Manager for the Greater Lafourche Port Commission.
Below is a transcript of this week’s Delta Dispatches Podcast. Listen to the full recording or subscribe to our feed in iTunes and Google Play.
Jacques: Hello, this is Delta Dispatches. We are discussing Louisiana’s Coast, its people, wildlife, and jobs, and why restoring it matters. I’m Jacques Hebert.
Simone: I’m Simone Maloz.
Jacques: Simone, it’s great to have you back.
Simone: Did you miss me?
Jacques: I missed you so much. How is it on the other side of the Mississippi River?
Simone: It was interesting. They have these things called like bluffs. Have you heard of such a thing?
Jacques: Is that like a levee?
Simone: I don’t know. I don’t know even know what it was. I didn’t even get that far, but you had a great show. I listened to it when it was on a podcast and it was great. I missed a lot.
Jacques: Yeah, it was wonderful having Mark Schleifstein and the whole Times Picayune coastal reporting team on.
Simone: You made the headlines.
Jacques: They did a little piece about being on-
Simone: Talked about bugs and snowballs.
Jacques: Bugs and snowballs, right. You can’t go wrong, so as it has been for many weeks now, it’s been an important week for the coast. We had some updates coming from the legislature, is that right?
Simone: Sure. Yesterday, the state’s master plan moved off of the senate floor and it now goes over to the house side. Then, actually, it’s going on a pretty fast track now, so it’ll be heard Monday and Tuesday on the house side and so another busy week next week too. Frankly, we’re doubling down on today’s show too, two in studio guest and two of some of our favorite people too.
Jacques: I know. It’s a great show and we’re actually going to be kind of mixing it up this weekend. We’re going to be staying on for both because we have such wonderful guests. We didn’t want to trade off, so we’re both going to be interviewing our guests. What are we talking about today?
Simone: It’s National Infrastructure Week. You’ve been partying all weekend.
Jacques: Oh, yeah. There’s been a lot of party within infrastructure. Today, we’re talking about specifically natural infrastructure, so wetlands, marshes, barrier islands, essentially coastal restoration and how a lot of the projects that are in the master plan do serve as infrastructure for our coast and for the nation.
Simone: Yeah. There’s been a lot of infrastructure talk with this new administration and certainly, people thinks of roads, bridges, and other traditional forms of infrastructure, but we have some of the best of the best in today to talk about the blending of both that traditional infrastructure and that coastal infrastructure. We’re going to have a good show today.
Jacques: That sounds good. Joining us first is Lacy McManus with the Greater New Orleans Inc., GNO Inc. as some folks might know and she is the director of program development.
Welcome to Delta Dispatches, Lacy.
Lacy: Thank you so much for having me today, Jacques. I’m so excited to be in studio with you guys.
Jacques: Yeah. It’s great having you here in the studio. I know your offices are not too far from here. Tell us a little bit about GNO Inc. and your overall mission. I know you’ve been very active in New Orleans for a while, helping to really expand the economy, create jobs, so give us the rundown of the good work that you all do.
Lacy: Sure. GNO Inc. is actually the economic development alliance for the 10 parish Greater New Orleans region. Even though we have New Orleans in our name, we certainly represent equally Jefferson Parish, St. Bernard Parish, Plaquemines Parish, St. John the Baptist, St. Charles, St. James, and then on the North Shore, St. Tammany, and Washington Parishes. We love our 10 parish region and really is the economic development alliance. What were charged with doing is acting as a catalyst for wealth generation in Southeast Louisiana. That really boils down to bringing in jobs and industry to the region and also retaining the jobs in industry that we currently have.
Jacques: That’s great. Speaking of the Greater New Orleans Region, I grew up in Plaquemines Parish. I went to school in New Orleans, I’m a Jesuit boy, but after high school, I left and I went out of state for college and I worked for a while in other parts, but I always wanted to come back. Growing up, we heard a lot about the brain drain, that there weren’t a lot of jobs for young people in New Orleans that wanted to live and work here, but in fact, that’s kind of turned into somewhat of a brain gain. Thankfully, I’ve been able to come back, others have, and we have new people moving in New Orleans now, in the Greater New Orleans Region who haven’t before. Tell us a little bit about that trend and how GNO Inc. has supported it.
Lacy: Sure. Actually, my boss, this afternoon, sent a great quote that really, I think, encapsulates what we do in economic development and that is economic development is about creating the conditions where people want to risk their capital. I think we can think of capital in a really traditional sense that’s just being dollars and funds and financing, but I think it’s more than just that. I think it’s also there talent, their time, in the case of New Orleans and many instances, their youth, they’re 20s, maybe even the 30s and 40s as well.
When you’re actually thinking about creating an environment and a condition where people want to invest of themselves, their time, their talent, their dollars, et cetera, we really have to make sure that we’re not just bringing in jobs and industry, that were not just creating those business development opportunities, but we’re also creating what we call at GNO Inc. product development as well which is really the atmosphere, the brand, the attraction to capital, the policy frameworks, et cetera, that really allow their jobs and those industries and those businesses to thrive and prosper. That allow those individuals to come to the Greater New Orleans area and realize that this is the place where they want to grow, where they want to raise a family, where they really want to invest.
I think that our focus on those two pieces of business development and product development is a lot of the reason why we’re seeing the brain gain that we have post-Katrina. I think that we had a really sexy comeback kids story. A lot of people wanted to be a part of one of the biggest urban renaissances in American history, but I think the reason that they’ve stayed goes a lot deeper than that. It really speaks to our culture, it speaks to our commitment, to the economy, to our ways of life here in Southeast Louisiana and I think that’s what’s driven so many folks not only back here but allow them to stay and really compel them to stay as well.
Simone: Speaking of bosses, your boss, Michael Heck has been a tremendous leader and what you just talked about. Even today, there was a great letter to the editor published but about coastal issues. He has been able to seamlessly marry that the coastal issue to exactly what you’re talking about. Why don’t you tell everybody about the letter that appeared today in the NOLA.com.
Lacy: Sure. The letter to the editor that Simone just referenced actually really reaffirms our stance and our position supporting the state’s coastal master plan which I’m sure if you’re tuning into this program, many if you are familiar with, but essentially, the State of Louisiana has a 50 year, 50 billion dollar master plan to protect and restore our coastal assets here in Southeast Louisiana and across the state as well. For the Greater New Orleans Region, this plan is a really critical framework and roadmap to ensuring that our businesses, our economic assets, our culture, our ways of life, all of those wonderful things that I just talked about a few moments ago, are able to stay here and exist here in perpetuity.
That’s really what’s Michael’s letter today was about. It was connecting economic development work that we do, that what we’re really known for with that master plan. It was also about connecting it with the National Flood Insurance Program which is up for reauthorization in 2017 at the federal level. What we saw a few years ago with the flood insurance prices spiking as a result of some federal legislation and some federal implications was that a lot of folks were getting priced out of their homes potentially. Homes that they’ve been investing in and protecting and upgrading and uplifting for many, many years.
The number one wealth-building asset for many families was underwater as a result of spiking and increasing flood insurance prices and premiums. Really ensuring that we’re protecting that, that we’re protecting those financial investments on the federal level through federal advocacy is a huge focus of GNO Inc. and tying that work in with the coastal master plan on the local level really I think helps buffer our position here in Southeast Louisiana, making the case both nationally and locally, that we’re doing everything that we can on the ground to make sure our folks can stay in their homes, to make sure that our economies and our communities can thrive and prosper sustainably for as long as possible.
Simone: Even though I was in Minnesota last week, through the internet, in case you haven’t heard about the internet, they have this amazing thing where you can watch Louisiana legislature from wherever you are. I was lucky enough to watch the proceedings last week in the legislature and you testified. It’s in natural resources. You brought your chairman of your CCRE committee, correct? Thank you for testifying and taking that civic action and being in natural resources, but also bringing somebody along like your chairman of your CCRE. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what that is, what kind of an initiative that is for GNO Inc., and tell us why you felt like you needed to be there.
Lacy: Sure. CCRE, that actually stands for the Coalition for Coastal Resilience and Economy and that’s a group of business leaders that GNO Inc. formed just a few years ago because we recognized that there were a lot of folks who were advocating really passionately on the half of coastal restoration in the coastal master plan, but you didn’t really have a concentrated voice of business advocates. Folks who were engaged in coastal restoration and engaged in advocacy around the master plan from a business perspective recognizing that their business interests, their financial interest, would be at stake if this plan and if our coastal restoration efforts weren’t implemented.
What we did was put together this group, CCRE, and it’s essentially executives from across the Greater New Orleans Region. We also have representation from the Bayou Region, the Capital Region as well, and it’s many folks who, frankly, didn’t know too much about coastal restoration a few years ago, but they had an interest and they wanted to be engaged, they wanted to make an impact and have a voice. With the help of you guys and many of your colleagues in the environmental community, we started doing overflights and boat tours and lectures and briefings and presentations, and before we knew it, we are flying out to DC to meet with the Department of Commerce secretary, Penny Pritzker, at that time to discuss coastal restoration activities with her and really make the case for Louisiana from the business community perspective. We were going up to Baton Rouge as you saw last week, testifying before senate committees and whatnot, on behalf of the master plan.
What we’ve done over the last few years is put together a really nice group of business champions who are well-versed in the issue spacing restoration and can really advocate actively for it.
Jacques: Lacy, we’re about to head into a break and we want to talk a lot more with you about the good work that GNO Inc. does and you yourself. First, I have to ask, we now have a direct nonstop flight to London and I know you all have been working to put the international back in Louis Armstrong International Airport, so tell us a little bit about that. Have you taken the flight?
Lacy: I haven’t taken the flight yet. I’m actually taking on Wednesday the direct flight to Frankfurt which is the condor flight, so now we have several direct flights servicing New Orleans with the rest of the world really. It’s unbelievably exciting. It’s going to impact not only are our resident’s ability to travel and see the world, but also our business’s ability to come in, make New Orleans home, and fly to meetings across the world.
Simone: I’ll take that nonstop to London.
Jacques: I think you are taking it in a few weeks? All right, we’re about to head into a break. For those tuning in, this is Delta Dispatches and we’ll be back right after our commercial.
Jacques: All right. We’re back. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches. This is Jacques Hebert.
Simone: This is Simone Maloz from Restore or Retreat. I was just thinking like we should do an after-show about what we talk about during the break.
Jacques: Well, after the show is the after-party, right?
Simone: Right, right. Exactly, exactly. We are fortunate enough to have some great guests today on the show with us because it’s National Infrastructure Week. We’re not just talking about traditional infrastructure. We’re also talking about coastal infrastructure.
Jacques: Yeah. Right now, we’re returning with Lacy McManus from the Greater New Orleans Inc., GNO Inc. Lacy, you know we like to keep it fun and now, our fun questions have made the news. I know you grew up in Baton Rouge, is what is your favorite slide at Blue Bayou?
Lacy: Oh, my God.
Simone: I have a feeling Lacy doesn’t go to Blue Bayou.
Lacy: I’m not going to lie. It’s been probably about 20 years. It’s been a while.
Simone: For the summer concert series?
Lacy: I’m going to share my age real quick for those listening in. I was probably college when they built Dixie Landing, so there wasn’t really a summer concert series growing up unfortunately, but my favorite slide is definitely – and I don’t know if they still have it – but the black water moccasin one.
Jacques: Mine too. Also, I’m from the days of pre-Dixie Landing and concerts.
Simone: I don’t even know you two, you people. I grew up in Houma. We had Waterland USA. All right, so fun time is over. Lacy, growing up in Baton Rouge, would you have ever said New Orleans is a coastal city?
Lacy: Probably not. Honestly, I never really thought of Louisiana as being a coastal state. We have long coastline that literally stretches from one end of the state to the other, but when we go to the beach, we typically don’t go to Louisiana beaches. You go to Alabama-
Simone: You don’t go to the Fourchon Beach?
Lacy: I know. I’ve seen all the good work Joni is doing down there and I got to say, if ever I’ll open for some residential real estate, it’s a lot closer than Destin.
Simone: I think of some nice sand down there now, girl.
Lacy: They do.
Jacques: Just look out for the lease terns.
Lacy: No, I don’t think I would have ever quantified or qualified New Orleans or Louisiana, frankly, as being really coastal places.
Simone: Not even going to ask you what you think about it now because, of course, the answer is yes, New Orleans is a coastal city. One of the things that helped bring to light that New Orleans is a coastal city is certainly Hurricane Katrina and some of those events that brought, unfortunately, New Orleans and Louisiana as a coastal state to the forefront, but thinking about the more positive aspect of that, GNO Inc. played a real big role in the commemoration of the 10th anniversary and so tell us a little bit about the role that you all played in K10 and then I think it was part of that revitalization story, but let’s talk a little bit about K10 and what that meant to GNO Inc.
Lacy: Sure. That was a real opportunity for us to show how far we’ve come as a community, but I think also to be very frank and really honest about some of the areas that we still need to improve in. Even though we’ve had extraordinary economic gains over the last, now, 12 years, almost 12 years, but at that time, 10 years, since Hurricane Katrina, we still have a number of areas that we still need to work on. We’re not perfect. We’re still an evolving city, an evolving community as most places are, but I think one of the most exciting things that we were able to do during that week was really highlight the environmental story of New Orleans and connect it with the economic renaissance as well and show not just how far we’ve come again but where we have to go.
One of the things that we did that week, in addition to sitting on a number of panels.
Simone: You got paid for a panel?
Lacy: If only. We call it panel police, but I was probably with some of your colleagues, with some of our environmental organizations, and with CPRA, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, probably doing two or three coastal overflights a day for that week. We were spending a lot of time in Belle Chasse, at Southern Seaplane. I will give a shout out to Lyle and Rhonda. Thank you, both, forever and always, but we were taking journalists from across the world up in overflights to really see what our landline was looking like now, what our coastline looks like, and also some of the great projects that are currently on the ground and underway, so they got to see the crisis but they also got to see the opportunity and really see that frame to both in the economic sense as well as the environmental sense. I think really showcasing that picture, showing that we are really at the tip of the spear here in Southeast Louisiana, dealing with our environmental crisis, that was a huge opportunity during K10 and we are really thrilled to be a part of it.
Jacques: Right. I think that really came to the forefront. Obviously, GNO Inc. does as well, the importance of the environment and industry kind of working together and no places that more clear than here in Louisiana. We’re going to talk to Joni Tuck in the next segment about the working coast, but I want to ask a little bit about Katrina and some of those overflights. I know you took up Shaun Donovan at that time and so for our listeners who may not be familiar with who he is and what he did in the prior administration, can you tell us a little bit about that and how that flight may have helped move forward one the most critical projects?
Lacy: Sure. Shaun Donovan, at the time, he was actually a Secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for a number of years, but prior to that the end of the Obama Administration, he was actually the director of the Office of Management and Budget. Basically, he was the accountant for the United States of America. Yeah, big boss indeed. We were able to take him a few of his colleagues from the White House on an overflight again with CPRA and with many of your environmental colleagues to really show for him up close and personal the crisis that we’re facing and also the opportunities that we have to mitigate this crisis and to amend and alleviate some of these challenges. We were very frank with him that one of the major barriers that we see on the horizon is permitting delays. It’s not really an issue of can we do these massive infrastructure projects, but will we be able to do them in time because there’s so much paperwork and so much red tape at the federal level to move these unprecedented infrastructure projects through.
I would say the unbelievable amount of data, research, thoughts, community input, et cetera, that’s gone into the coastal master plan, he was willing, when he got back to Washington DC, to work for a few months in cooperation with us with CPRA, et cetera, to put one of the key projects from the coastal master plan onto what’s known as the federal dashboard and that’s actually to the best of my understanding and I’m not an expert on permitting, but it’s actually an opportunity at the federal level to put a massive infrastructure project in a position to have those permit expedited and move much more swiftly and efficiently through what again can sometimes be a rather onerous federal of bureaucratic process.
Simone: Do you really think, Lacy, that’s one of our biggest challenges ahead? You and I talked about financing all the time. That’s a whole another show, but do you really think that that’s probably one of the biggest hurdles?
Lacy: Yeah, I do, honestly. It’s very exciting that we’re doing this huge projects that have never been done anywhere else in the world. That’s a huge opportunity for our industry, for our labor, for our brand, frankly, but at the same time, I think we also have to be cognizant that it’s a pretty extraordinary stress for some of our regulatory entities at the federal level who really have to do their due diligence, making sure these projects don’t do more harm than good. I think we have to respect that it’s putting quite of bit of pressure on these entities, but at the same time, we all have to be working together to come up with meaningful solutions. We have to restore the environment now.
Simone: That’s two subjects we need to talk about, financing and permitting on a whole another episode.
Jacques: Absolutely. Lacy, thank you so much and thank you so much for the work that GNO Inc. does.
Lacy: Thank you all for having me. We appreciate it.
Jacques: Real quick, we’re almost out of time, but website, Twitter, for GNO Inc.
Lacy: GNOInc.org. You can find us on the web, Facebook. Just plug in GNO Inc, same with Twitter.
Jacques: All right. We’ll be right back after the break.
Simone: Welcome back to Delta Dispatches. I’m Simone Maloz from Restore or Retreat.
Jacques: This is Jacques Hebert from Audubon Louisiana.
Simone: We have waited for this day. One of our most favorite shout-outs is here in studio with us, Joni Tuck. Welcome to Delta Dispatches.
Joni: Well, thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Simone: Long time listener, first time caller?
Joni: Yes, this is a first time caller. I’m so excited to find out what happens when a Herbert, a Theriot and a Blanchard roll into a radio station.
Jacques: Well, we’re about to find out. I will say, Joni, that you have probably only been mentioned second to sediment diversions in this show in terms of…
Simone: and Chip Klein.
Joni: We have to talk about Chip Klein.
Simone: Jenny … Can I call you, Jenny?
Joni: Sure, Camille. You can call me, Jenny.
Simone: Little backstory. Joni and I went to college together. I think we were soulmates for a long time before that, but we went to college together. We went to good old Nicholls State University. We were together a little bit and then Joni moved to the other side of the world. That’s a long story.
Joni: It is a long story.
Simone: Then she came back to us and we are so glad to have you back, but, Joni, you are a Blanchard from Napoleonville.
Simone: Oh, yes.
Joni: Pick the right ‘ville.
Simone: St. Philomena Parish.
Joni: Yes, indeed.
Simone: Assumption High.
Joni: I am an Assumption High.
Simone: Jacques, you probably didn’t know this, but Joni went to high school with Rudy Simoneaux from CPRA.
Jacques: It’s such a small world. I know we were talking about some other mutual friends that we have. Some of them work in the coastal space too.
Joni: There’s a lot of Assumption Parish natives out there.
Simone: I heard Joni say the other day that Rudy sat behind her in Spanish 2 and that’s probably why Rudy passed.
Joni: I didn’t say that before you said that.
Simone: I did.
Simone: Joni from Labadieville.
Simone: Tell us a little bit about growing up on the bayou.
Joni: Literally grew up on the bayou. The house we have when I was a kid was on Bayou Lafourche and so that was always … It’s always been a very big part-
Simone: Did you swim in the bayou?
Joni: I did not swim in the bayou.
Joni: I knew better than that, even at such a young tender age, because there were alligators and they would eat the baby turtles in the backyard.
Simone: In raw sewage.
Joni: Raw sewage and they would chase the ducks, so it was a no swimming-
Simone: The sewage would chase the ducks?
Joni: No, the alligators.
Jacques: Was there good fishing off that bayou, off your backyard?
Joni: No. See the sewage comment earlier.
Simone: You grew up there. You went to Louisiana school for a little while, you came back home, then you went to ULL, you finished at Nicholls.
Simone: You were a park ranger.
Joni: I was a park ranger.
Simone: You were a federal employee.
Joni: Yes, I was. If I ever go back, I will keep my sick leave.
Simone: Did you keep the hat?
Joni: Yes, they let you keep the hat.
Simone: Of course, they did.
Joni: It’s one of my prizes, actually.
Jacques: What park?
Joni: Jean Lafitte National Historical Park & Preserve, Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center.
Jacques: Wow. That is a mouthful, but it is a beautiful spot of Louisiana.
Joni: It is. It’s a good spot. They have six sites all over South Louisiana and I worked at the site in Thibodaux.
Simone: Do they still do the boat rides in the bayou?
Joni: They do. They do still do the boat rides in the bayou.
Simone: It’s so nice. It really nice out there. They have a nice boardwalk and Angelus is really great over there.
Joni: She’s awesome. I’m contractually obligated to say that. She’s godmother to my twins, but the cool thing about the boat tours is that it tells that comprehensive story of how we live here, we work here, and how the resource dictates who we are and where we live and what we eat and why we drink.
Simone: You worked at BTNEP?
Joni: I did. I did.
Simone: BTNEP stands for?
Joni: Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program.
Simone: What did you do for them?
Joni: I was the public involvement coordinator. I then build an informal education, government realms, media, policy, and start of the volunteer program which is how I came to fall in love with Port Fourchon.
Simone: It is a robust volunteer program too, by the way.
Joni: Well, I like to think I laid a good foundation.
Simone: Yes. BTNEP is a good friend to Restore or Retreat. They certainly get the public involvement. We don’t really do too much of that. We do a lot of the policy and project involvements and or spectacular at doing the plantings and trying to get people involved. Jacques and I, at the end of our show, try to talk about ways that people can get involved at the end of the show and there’s not always a lot of opportunities and we are grateful for BTNEP and CRCL and some of our other partners that create those opportunities for people to get their hands dirty and to put their boots on, to go out on a Saturday and get to work.
Going through your resume, you did move across the world. You worked for Melbourne Water?
Joni: I did.
Simone: Melbourne? I have a great Australian accent too.
Joni: Oh, nice. It sounded even-
Jacques: Did you like the Vegemite?
Joni: No, that is horrible. It is a byproduct of the brewing process. Write that down.
Simone: You did not buy off from that, but tell us, since it’s National Infrastructure Week, tell us what you did over there.
Joni: When I worked for Melbourne Water, I was manager of communications and approvals for capital delivery and had 2.5 billion out of a 5-year, 5 billion-
Simone: That’s billion with a B?
Joni: With a B, yeah. It’s infrastructure week. Don’t talk about millions in infrastructure week. You talk about billions.
We did a lot asset renewal. We had some water remains that were over 120 years old. Some of them were made out of cast iron or even like wood, like barrels, and coated in canvass and-
Simone: The prisoners made those?
Joni: The prisoners probably did make those, yeah. Then we built a huge water pipeline through the great dividing-
Joni: Quite controversial. People tried to run me over with their car. It was a good old fashioned fight.
Simone: Then you moved back to Louisiana?
Joni: Then I did, yeah, but I didn’t run. I was not chased back by angry villagers, so it’s good.
Jacques: Shifting it back to this side of the pond, so Joni, we’re, obviously talking about Infrastructure Week and nowhere is that more important than here in Louisiana and through our working coast. You’re, obviously, very prone to talking about the working coast. We were talking about journalist about it a few weeks ago, so for those who may not be familiar with that concept, what is the working coast and why is it important?
Joni: The working Coast is the space between the water and the land that is an active production and that can be anything. It can be a commercial fishery, it can be the oil and gas industry, it can be servicing the energy industry, it can be timber, mining, any of those sorts of things that’s making a commercial living off of the natural resources along the coast and nobody is more tethered to the natural resource than the people of South Louisiana. I think that’s very fair to say.
Jacques: I mean it’s not just the people here in South Louisiana or in the State of Louisiana the benefit. It’s a national benefit. Sometimes we get these knuckleheads that like to say, “Well, why don’t those people pick up and move and pick up their businesses and just move further north?” Do you agree with that statement and if so or not, why not?
Joni: Absolutely not, it’s about Melbourne Water, so you work for a water utility. People do not like it when the sewage backs up into the shower and they like it when clean water comes out of the tap, but nobody likes to see how it’s done. Our working coast is responsible for some really dirty jobs. They’re responsible for commercial fishing and shrimping ain’t easy. It’s a dirty job.
Simone: You have that bumper sticker?
Joni: I don’t have that bumper sticker.
Simone: I feel like you should.
Joni: So is the energy industry. It is difficult, hard, hard work to do and it is resource-intensive and not everybody wants to see that in their front yard and yet they all need to drive somewhere. Everybody needs some sort of plastic or petrochemical product in their lives, every minute of every day. If you don’t have us, we can move, fine, but you’re going to go back to the dark ages and I hope you like cooking over a campfire if that’s what you need to do, but the working coast is absolutely essential to the American character.
Jacques: We, literally, feed and feel the nation.
Joni: Literally. Literally.
Simone: Joni, Bruce Culpepper, the president of Shell Oil Company, this week, wrote about the need to invest in America’s port as part of the National Infrastructure Week. You work at a port?
Joni: I do.
Simone: What’s the port’s name?
Joni: Port Fourchon.
Joni: I know, right?
Simone: I like it.
Simone: You wrote about that in Desmond as part of National Infrastructure Week. Tell us about what he wrote and if you agree and how you all see that, really that investment, in Port Fourchon.
Joni: Yeah. Well, what he wrote was actually a lot like what we’re just talking about how infrastructure that people see are the roads they drive on, the traffic that they get mad at, the road rage that they curse at on the bridge is in Baton Rouge, but the infrastructure the people don’t see but are absolutely connected to is our nation’s ports. You don’t get any of the products that you need without a port and the ports of Louisiana, particularly, especially are responsible for employing one in every five people in the state. We have this massive network that is tremendously critical not just to us but to the rest of the nation.
What Mr. Culpepper was writing about is that you might not see it and you might not know about it, but it’s completely essential and they are totally underserved and have been underfunded and under-invested in for a very long time. What he’s talking about is how do we put in place some strategies to preserve and protect the funding, protect the funding, that is supposed to be going to America’s ports and how do we develop new strings for additional investment.
Simone: Joni, real quick before we hit the break, why don’t you tell us a little bit about Port Fourchon and how big you all are and what your annual budget is for some people that might not know too much about Port Fourchon?
Joni: Sure. We are the southern-most port in the State of Louisiana. You actually have to drive north to go to Grand Isle We are the central most port on the entire US Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida, so that makes us the perfect jumping off point for servicing the offshore energy industry. We actually service about 20% of the nation’s oil supply that passes through or-
Simone: Of the whole nation.
Joni: The whole country. One in every five barrels of oil in the country passes through our port and so it’s, obviously, tremendously important. We’re sitting on about 1,800 acres that developed our industry and we also have a robust environmental mitigation program.
Simone: Yeah, we definitely we want to talk about that after the break, but before we go, fun question for Joni Tuck. I think she’s been sweating us out all day about nervous, so nervous, but is so easy, Joni. What is your favorite muffin?
Joni: Favorite muffin? I’m not a muffin man. I’m not the muffin man. I’m more of a chocolate crescent girl.
Simone: Nice, nice. Okay. Thank you.
Jacques: As long as it doesn’t have Vegemite on it, right?
Joni: No Vegemite, no.
Simone: We’ll be right back after the break. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches.
Jacques: Hello, this is Delta Dispatches and you’re back with Jacques Herbert.
Simone: Simone Maloz.
Jacques: Ms. Joni Tuck.
Jacques: Joni, you are external relations manager for the Port Fourchon in South Lafourche Port Commission. That’s a mouthful.
Joni: Yes, I certainly.
Jacques: Great. I have to ask you, you didn’t spend too much time at Blue Bayou, did you, growing up?
Joni: No, no. I only went once.
Jacques: You had a Blue Bayou tape placed down in-
Joni: We did. We had Waterland USA over good old Houma, Louisiana.
Jacques: It ain’t there no more.
Joni: It ain’t there no more, but they remediated the site.
Jacques: Okay. Well, it’s a shame, but-
Simone: I had a party there too. It’s pretty fun.
Jacques: Moving onto more positive story. As I mentioned, we were out on tour in Port Fourchon. We got to see a lot of the great restoration in action that you all have produced and are kind of supporting. Can you tell us a little bit about the specific restoration that Port Fourchon supports and does on its own property?
Joni: Yeah, absolutely. First, in our own portfolio, so as we develop the port, we’re actually dredging slips in shallow open water and so we have to mitigate by constructing wetlands to offset that habitat lost. This year, we’ve worked on 1,000 acres of wetlands recreated through that mitigation portfolio. We’ve also partnered with our good friends, BTNEP, as Simone gave them a shout-out earlier. Some of those trees that we first planted 12 years ago and now 15 feet tall and when you walk out there, you have to walk on a platform of marsh for about a mile of marsh that integrated into open water and is now our mitigation marsh. You hear the birds from that mile away. It’s absolutely breathtaking. It’s a great experience and next Fourchon Friday, we should go.
Jacques: Well, I know Dr. Erik Johnson who was on the show a while back, certainly loves that area and loves seeing the restoration action and the birds that have come as a result, but more broadly where, obviously, it’s National Infrastructure Week and we’re talking about the coastal master plan in the south, but from the perspective of the poor, why are projects in the master plan, why is the master plan important?
Joni: We take the approach of that in order to be resilient, you have to approach it holistically. Look, we can build higher and harder and we do. After every iteration of port development, we build our base land elevations higher that the iterations before. After every storm, everybody’s complying with new building codes and guidelines that are now 150 mile an hour, wind load ratings, and base flood elevations that are higher than ever before. That’s great on the hard assets side, but you need a protective buffer. You need a natural protective buffer and that’s marshes, that’s headlands, that’s barrier islands, that’s those ridges as well.
Every speck of sand that we dredge within the port is used beneficially. We either build development line with it or we build wetlands with it. We build those wetlands in an area that is a place that is naturally protecting the port infrastructure that we’ve built. We choose not to go and pay into a mitigation banks ourselves. We want to place that material where we know it’s going to do us some good and it absolutely has. If you look at the damage that was done for Hurricane Katrina and you looked at the maritime forest ridge was there and absolutely acted as a storm surge buffer. There was a ton of debris that was hung up on the backside of the ridge that did not impact the port, that’s water that didn’t get to the port, that’s damaging pieces of stuff that didn’t get support either. My coffee table came from a Katrina debris on top of the ridge. It’s a really pretty cool piece.
We need this mass of plane to protect us and surround us as nature intended it to be. We built near the coast because water is everybody’s lifeblood, but at that time that we built all these places, there was a lot more protection around it and so we’re trying to mimic that as much as possible which is why we absolutely, whole-heartedly support the coastal master plan. There’s a lot in there that protects us. There’s a lot in there that protects critical infrastructure right across the state and we feel that that is tremendously important, not just for us, but for everybody else and every other working community along that working coast.
Simone: Selfishly, Restore or Retreat has to give a tremendous shout-out to the Greater Lafourche Port Commission. They were one of the ones that started our organization over 17 years ago and they’ve always led on this issue that they didn’t have to be a leader on frankly and it’s been a wonderful partnership for us, throughout all these years, and now, I really think you have not just an industry leader, but a real just overall leader and somebody like Chett Chiasson who’s the executive director of the port now. He just gets it. He grew up in South Lafourche. He still lives there. He loves to hunt, play, live, work down there and so he has been a tremendous leader and it’s never been a question of why should I support it? It’s always just been how can I support it.
He and I served on the governor’s advisory commission. He has a very important role on the state’s financing corporation, so shout-out to your leadership. Your port commission has always been tremendously supported. Frankly, we’re seeing people want to mimic that partnership all across the coast and so selfishly, I have to give a huge shout-out to you guys and all the support that you give us, not just financial, but every time I call up and ask them a favor. Every time, they do it, every time. I am very grateful for that.
Joni: Well, we’re very grateful for you guys, as well. It’s been a great relationship and we appreciate it.
Simone: One of our recent trips, we went out to see Caminada. That’s one of our favorite places to go. Just really quickly, just rattle off all the people that you can think of, off the top of your head, that have seen Caminada.
Joni: Oh, my God. Half of our state delegation, most of them, so you got [Rep. Jerome “Zee” Zeringue] and Tanner. We’ve brought journalists down. We were on NPR. We want all things considered, so you had the incomparable Debbie Elliot was out there. You guys have been out there multiple times. David Muth, but we’ve also had staffers from all over DC, on both sides of party lines, both house, natural resources and others. The coastguard actually brought folks down in transportation and we brought them to the beach as well and explained the benefit of the project and how important it is to protect our navigation assets as well.
Simone: Iowa Public Television.
Joni: Oh, yeah, yeah.
Simone: You get calls from everywhere. What was your favorite?
Joni: You know what, that’s like asking me to choose between my-
Simone: Choose between the girls?
Joni: Obviously, no.
Jacques: Tell us a little bit about Elmer’s Island and the Caminada Headlands. It’s the largest restoration project completed to date?
Joni: Yes, absolutely. It is a showpiece for restoration and I remember when I first started working for the port … I’ve only been working for the port for about three years and Caminada was under construction. Simone was like, “Look, I’m taking some people out. Can we go?” I’m like, “Sure.”
Simone: Do I talk like that?
Joni: No, you don’t. You’re actually much bossier and I’m trying to be nice for the radio. I remember going because, as Simone has mentioned, I’ve worked in restoration for many years, moved away, and then came back. At the point in time, when I moved away was 2007 when the first master plan was being brought in for landing and there were so many people saying, “You all are never going to do that. You know what, they can make another plan. They’re never build off it.” To walk out there and see this massive dredge pipe spewing land that came from Ship Shoal which was something people talked about for 30 years and it was like, “Oh, yeah? We’re not doing it? Look at it.” We’re doing it. Not only can we do it, but we do it and we do it every day.
Jacques: Now, you’re walking on it.
Joni: Now, we’re walking on it.
Simone: Well, not by the birds?
Joni: Not by the birds.
Jacques: Not by the birds but-
Joni: I do see some baby birds the other day. They’re very cute.
Jacques: Joni, thank you, again, so much. We’ll have to have you back on but the shout-outs won’t stop.
Joni: Be afraid. Can’t stop. Won’t stop.
Simone: Thank you, Jenny.
Joni: Thank you, Camille.
Jacques: All right. Joni Tuck, external relations manager with the Greater Lafourche Port Commission.
Simone: Girl, website, Twitter.
Joni: Yeah. PortFourchon.com and we’re at the Twitter @FourchonPort because somebody hijacked our domain, but everywhere else, we are at Port Fourchon on Facebook and Instagram.
Simone: Great. Thank you, again, Joni, for joining us. Let’s wrap up this show, Jacques.
Jacques: Pretty good show. Pretty good guests. It’s good to be back fully in our studio. What are our plans for next week? I guess we have to figure that out.
Simone: This is always what we have to do, is figure it out. What’s on deck for this week?
Simone: Last thing, still not too late to support the coastal master plan through-
Jacques: It’s best to go through the house, so go to our website, MississippiRiverDelta.org/takeaction and make sure the members of the house, Louisiana State House, know how important the master plan is.
Simone: Selfishly, Restore or Retreat has our annual meeting next week. We have Justine Ehrenwerth, the president and CEO of the Water Institute of the Gulf who’s going to be our keynote speaker. You can find more information on our Facebook page or on our website. Until next week, Jacques.
Jacques: All right, have a great weekend. Thank you for listening to Delta Dispatches.