114 community leaders ask the Corps to make a win-win decision for a threatened swamp

By Halle Parker

More than 100 business, parish and community leaders mobilized over the past few weeks, signing their entities onto a request for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to contribute to the state’s River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp project to balance what will be lost in the construction of the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain levee. 

The widely-supported Maurepas Swamp project aims to deliver sediment and fresh water from the Mississippi River to 45,000 acres existing wetlands and forests in the East Maurepas swamp, which is rapidly declining. The small diversion is expected to nourish around one-third of the swamp and reduce loss of habitat over the next several decades. 

What does a future without action look like?

What does a future without action look like?
What does a future with action look like?

In February, the project was awarded $130 million by the RESTORE Council bringing it closer to fruition. The swamp provides important habitat to wildlife while also protecting the Greater Baton Rouge and Greater New Orleans regions from storm surge. However, the state still needs roughly $60 million to get the project across the finish line. 

The letter urged the Corps to consider taking the innovative approach of using the swamp restoration project to mitigate for wetlands loss incurred from construction of the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain levee, as it will be built next to the swamp. Typically, the Corps uses mitigation banks that create wetlands to offset ecological impacts by construction projects off site.

“This option is a unique opportunity to leverage state and federal needs into one solution that will nourish one of our region’s most valued resources,” said St. John the Baptist Parish President Jaclyn Hotard, who also signed the letter. 

“The Maurepas Swamp enhances and protects St. John the Baptist Parish by serving as a crucial barrier to storm surge and helping to filter harmful pollutants from our waterways,”  she added. “Ultimately, this project fulfills a multiple lines of defense strategy to build resilience for our citizens and for future generations of the state of Louisiana.”

One of the signers included a man who spent much of his life hunting in Maurepas, Warren Coco. 

Founder of Go-Devil Manufacturers of Louisiana, Coco was instrumental in making Maurepas Swamp iconic among duck hunters by teaming with Phil Robertson to film The Duckmen of Louisiana in the 1980s based in his camp in the swamp. 

Before the lack of natural flow began impacting the swamp, it was some of the best mallard hunting in Louisiana. Coco said the diversion was a necessity to “restore some of the natural hydrology.”

“Maurepas swamp is a very unique forested wetland unlike any other. Formed by the Mississippi thousands of years ago the river got cut off for reasons of flood control by buildings the levees. The swamp took years to degrade to the point it is now,” said Coco. “This will help the swamp by supplying needed nutrients.”

Coco and Hotard were joined by 114 other wide-ranging supporters, including local government officials, the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce and GNO, Inc., and those active in ecotourism and hunting.  

Read the full letter to the Corps and see all of the signers here.