Posted on May 24, 2023
Champions of restoring Louisiana’s coastal wetlands recently celebrated another milestone when they marked the rebuilding of a natural ridge in Spanish Pass, west of Venice in southern Plaquemines Parish. The Spanish Pass project comprises nearly 1,700 acres of freshly formed land extending about six miles into Yellow Cotton Bay.
A year ago, all of the newly created land was underwater. A century ago, the original, natural ridge supported oak trees and served as a buffer against hurricanes and storm surges that have steadily eroded south Louisiana marshes since the 1930s.
The two-mile-wide ridge will provide habitat for a host of wildlife amid 47,000 live oaks, persimmons, honey locusts and other trees. The trees are expected to stabilize the ridge throughout its project life of three to four decades.
The $100 million Spanish Pass project stands out because it is the longest ridge that the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority has rebuilt to date. It required contractors to dredge sediment from the Mississippi River and pump it through a 10-mile-long pipeline. Settlement funds from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster paid for the project.
Although significant in its own right, the Spanish Pass project is just one component of a multi-faceted marsh restoration and ridge rebuilding program across coastal Louisiana — all part of the state’s master plan developed by CPRA.
“We’ve completed a ton of other projects in that vicinity,” said CPRA Executive Director Bren Haase. “We’ve built thousands of acres of new marshes and restored natural ridges over the last 10 years.”
CPRA officials expect to build some 53,000 acres of marshland and ridges stretching from Venice to Port Fourchon via the Barataria Basin Ridge and Marsh Creation Project and the planned Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, which will channel Mississippi River sediment into the basin. The agency anticipates the two projects will reduce the region’s flood risk from hurricanes and storm surge by about 64%.
Other natural ridge projects include the Bayou Decade Ridge and Marsh Creation Project in Terrebonne Parish, which CPRA completed last August. That project created more than 473 acres of marsh near Lake Decade and restored more than 11,000 feet of ridge habitat along the northern bank of the bayou.
Though Louisiana still has a long way to go to rebuild and strengthen its coastal marshes and natural ridges against rising sea levels and storm surges, every milestone represents progress.
Each milestone also reminds us that our vulnerable state must invest in renewable energy and reduce emissions, if we truly want to save our fragile coastline — and protect ourselves against increasingly stronger hurricanes.