NEW BREED OF COASTAL RESTORATION SOLUTIONS LAUNCHED

HOUMA, LOUISIANA – Where stands of bald cypress once gave definition to swamps of the lower Mississippi Delta, officials from the State of Louisiana and Terrebonne Parish, private sponsors of the America’s WETLAND Foundation ( AWF), Resource Environmental Solutions (RES), and global energy producer, BHP, stood at the edge of wetland destruction to announce new projects

The Terrebonne Biodiversity and Resiliency Projects at Pointe-aux-Chenes & Bayou Terrebonne represent a private sector investment of $3.4 million dollars and, once completed, the projects will restore 50.58 hectares (125 acres) of wetlands with a per year economic value of $1.2 million and other annual benefits including, 280 tons of carbon sequestered, the elimination of up to 266 pounds of phosphorus and 10,600 pounds of nitrogen to improve water quality in lower Terrebonne Parish.

Bayou Terrebonne Project
Artist Rendition of Completed Bayou Terrebonne Project

“The challenges have become all too familiar and this request for action by the private sector to defend our coast and communities comes at a pivotal time in the fight against coastal erosion,” said Terrebonne Parish President Gordon Dove. “These projects are a signal that we will stand
our ground and build it back, one project at a time.”

AWF partnered with BHP and RES following successful completion of shoreline restoration in Lafourche Parish along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW). BHP supports its communities of operations by contributing to enhanced biodiversity.  RES participated in the GIWW project and earlier projects in the Pointe-aux-Chenes area.

“With any of our social investments, our main goal is to look for long-term opportunities and partnerships that allow for real change,” said BHP’s General Manager, Gulf of Mexico, Kristen Ray. “I grew up in Louisiana and the preservation of our natural environment has always been top of mind for the communities there. I’m heartened by the fact that biodiversity and ecosystems for future generations is paramount in the way BHP thinks about the environment and sustainability. Our involvement in this programme is really a targeted way for our company to create value for our communities in Louisiana. We’re very excited to be a lead sponsor of this project.”

The announced projects sit at the core of AWF’s new direction to introduce transitional projects, smaller in scale but valuable to wetlands in danger of being lost and critical to the overall success of the state’s coastal master plan and projects supported by citizens in their wetland-contiguous communities. The Foundation’s research and polling make a case for private sector involvement in restoration, noting the difficult challenge of raising public dollars alone to meet the restoration needs.

AWF Board Member and Terrebonne Parish native, Berwick Duval, noted, “This partnership is remarkable in that no one of these parties could take on projects alone, but together we stand here today to make a case that there is significant benefit that can come from private industry and NGOs working together in support of threatened communities like ours.”

The two announced projects will set a standard for:

  • Highlighting valuable social and environmental investment through a proactive response to the loss of biodiversity, natural sediment, climate events of sea level rise, storms and subsidence;
  • Demonstrating that a sound environment supports communities, habitat and a secure economy and to teach important lessons about natural or green engineering and the role that biodiversity plays in sustaining the environment;
  • Engaging and educating volunteers about the importance of ecological restoration and the direct and indirect benefits to the long-term survivability of local Louisiana communities.

Chairman of the Louisiana Natural Resources Committee, State Senator Norby Chabert, wants these projects to send a signal that there is room for everyone to be involved with restoring the coast. “Some of the new technology being employed in these projects was developed right in the areas of greatest need along our dying coast. Utilizing terracing with native cypress may help turn the tide in this area, then another and another,” said Chabert.

The new projects build on past work in the Pointe-aux-Chenes area, using enhanced techniques to prevent Nutria damage and to preserve the genetic integrity of the vegetative plant materials. Placement of cypress on top of the newly constructed terraces at the Bayou Terrebonne Project will mimic the cypress ridges that were once present on the site. These projects mark the start of a long-range Gulf Coast initiative by AWF to establish a registry of projects – the costs and acreage restored, carbon sequestered, along with an inventory of potential projects that are in need of private funding. The America’s WETLAND Conservation & Restoration Registry will be formally announced in the fall of 2018 at a statewide summit.

“For most of the past decade we have made the case for innovative coastal restoration solutions involving the private sector,” said Val Marmillion, AWF managing director. “Now that most everyone knows the consequences of losing the equivalent of a ‘football field of land every hour’ along our coast, we are digging in with special projects to take back land from the rising tide. We hope to attract sponsors for projects of $3 to $10 million a piece to transition wetlands threatened with extinction.”

RES President & CEO and Louisiana native, Elliott Bouillion, whose Houston-based company owns and operates the nursery supplying many of the plants for the restoration projects, said, “We’ll reenergize this area by planting more than 35,000 bald cypress trees along with 35,000 coastal marsh grasses, all locally grown at our Pointe aux Chenes nursery.” Bouillion noted that working to develop healthier, more resilient plant species has been the focus of the RES nursery and has led to finding innovative natural solutions. “These projects will draw on the operational expertise of our entire team ranging from the nursery staff, construction crews, planting crews, and monitoring and maintenance personnel in order to efficiently implement and successfully deliver these resiliency projects.”

Continuing a longstanding relationship with restoration initiatives and the Foundation, Speaker   Pro-tempore of the Louisiana Legislature, Walt Leger III, encouraged greater participation in projects of the upcoming Registry. He will serve as honorary co-chair along with Terrebonne State Representative Jerome Zeringue.

“I can’t encourage the private sector enough to look at these projects and to seriously consider sponsoring another,” Rep. Leger said.  “If we can continually launch manageable scale, privately sponsored projects, we can realize restoration that may not be prioritized in the master plan but indeed worthy and necessary.”

Rep. Jerome “Zee” Zeringue, who previously headed the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), noted, “We have been building for a time when, with the right tools and projects, we could engage the private sector to play a role in restoring our coast. These projects demonstrate that in places where companies have a stake in a community, there is a reasonable way forward to protect the employees and their private interests.”

Charles Sutcliffe, Director of Policy and Programs in the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, said, “The needs in coastal Louisiana go beyond what can be addressed in the master plan alone. It’s great to see the cooperation and coordination among NGOs and the private sector to deliver strategic local projects that strengthen the impact of public dollars toward large-scale restoration.”

BHP has shown additional interest in the cultures of the region, working with tribal leaders and local non-profits to identify options for fortifying communities whose livelihoods have been threatened by loss of wetlands. “When we first spoke with BHP representatives, it was clear that they had an interest in the people and communities of the region,” said Sidney Coffee, AWF senior advisor and a former chair of the CPRA. “We view our restoration needs from a generational perspective,” Coffee said. “AWF wants to help ensure that coastal communities are able to look within the frame of their own families and make important decisions for upcoming generations. Our commitment is to attract and manage projects that help to define the future for Louisianans and other Gulf Coast residents.”

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