Monday, October 29, 2012

Bayou Bienvenue field trip
As the East Coast is learning today, hurricanes are not for sissies. And a good levee system is not a luxury. When that wind comes pounding at your own door, you see the situation quite differently.

Anyhow, Sandy is banging on other folks' doors tonight, although it is a bit chilly here.

Saturday morning, I met a bunch of other people at the Greater Little Zion Baptist Church for a field trip with the Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development and the National Wildlife Federation, which has a local chapter. Happy Johnson and Amanda Moore from NWF led us on a tour of the Lower 9th Ward levee and Bayou Bienvenue.

One of Amanda's primary responsibilities is educating people about wetland loss and leading the MRGO Must Go coalition. "Mr. Go" (Mississippi River Gulf Outlet), as it is known here, is an Army Corp of Engineers' $88 million boondoggle that destroyed thousands of acres of wetlands and storm protection around Southeast Louisiana.

Its intent, back in the 1950s, was to create a shorter route to New Orleans than the Mississippi, which winds about 100 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. MRGO was completed in 1968.

As it has turned out, it costs $20,000 per ship to pass through Mr. Go and also compromises the surrounding communities during storms. Flooding has become a much bigger problem. The influx of salt water killed the cypress forest that protected the region.

Now the federal government has decided to "de-authorize" Mr. Go. But how do you fill in a ditch that size? Well, you can't. The coalition wants BP's fines through the Restore Act to fix much of the damage, since the channel was dug primarily to help the oil industry.

Restoring the ecosystem would take decades. They'd have to replant cypress trees by creating new land and literally planting seeds! Twenty-five acres are currently being cultivated as a trial.

The land estimated to be impacted is 618,000 acres of marshland.

Here are the facts thanks to WNF, Environmental Defense Fund, Audubon Society and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation:

  • Every hour, Louisiana loses a football field of wetlands
  • These wetlands act as a "horizontal levee" between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. As wetlands disappear, so do the natural defenses they provide, like storm surge protection, wind buffering and water filtration.
  • This drastic loss of wetlands leaves coastal communities increasingly vulnerable to hurricanes, floods and other disasters, like the 2010 BP oil spill
  • Coastal restoration projects will create jobs and rebuild our wetlands, safeguarding our cities and supporting our seafood industry.

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