Resurrecting Life at Jesuit Bend

 
A lone excavator prowls the restoration project

As wetlands continue to disappear in droves, restoration efforts remain paramount. Rehabilitating these ecosystems reintroduces countless vibrant species, while simultaneously bolstering wind and floodwater defenses. Lest we forget, wetland mitigation is also required by the Clean Water Act’s policy of ‘no net loss.’

This past Wednesday, GRN visited Plaquemines Parish to witness wetland-building firsthand. Our destination was the Jesuit Bend Mitigation Bank, a 338-acre site and the only project currently creating land from dredged river sediment. Thanks to Restoration Systems LLC, in partnership with Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company, we were able to travel by car, riverboat, and airboat to see the full, massive scope of this engineering endeavor.

The whole operation is set into motion by a floating behemoth that stirs up sediment some seventy feet below the River’s surface. Once loosened, the muddy mixture is pumped multiple miles downriver via pipeline: underwater, under LA 23, under the levee, and into what used to be open water. Here, workers in heavy equipment massage the material to its desired density and grade. Restoration Systems will soon plant thousands of individual marsh-grass units, ensuring significant surface cover.

Compared to state-funded ventures that tend to foster ecological regrowth slowly over time, the Jesuit Bend Mitigation Bank highlights the private sector’s initiative and capability. An astounding demand exists for regional restoration, yet supply still lags far behind. Thoughtful expediency from third parties could thus go far in forging a sustainable Louisiana. An influx of new mitigation banks would offer wetland-destroying developers improved access to proper ‘in-kind’ and ‘in-place’ restorative options, in contrast to present practices of pursuing whatever is most readily available (and often, cheapest).

While atoning for wetland losses can be quite a murky process, The Army Corps of Engineers hopes to streamline it by introducing the Louisiana Wetland Rapid Assessment Method or ‘LRAM.’ The Corps has been gathering public input on its proposal over the last couple months, and will continue doing so until November 26th. Should you want to comment on this regulatory overhaul, please email Mr. Stephen Pfeffer (Stephen.D.Pfeffer@usace.army.mil).

Great Lakes Dredge and Dock's massive floating dredger
The site itself, transitioning from open water to marshy habitat
Spoonbills coexisting with sediment pipes
A bald eagle perched in her nest
Another bald eagle displaying its majesty
Beautiful, beautiful nature

All photos courtesy of GRN's Scott Eustis and James Hartwell.

James Hartwell is GRN's Coastal Wetland Analyst.

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