Work progresses off Terrebonne on state’s biggest barrier island restoration project
About 20 miles southeast of Cocodrie, bulldozers are working on the state’s largest-ever project to restore barrier islands that protect inland communities from Gulf of Mexico storms.
Gov. John Bel Edwards and other officials got a first-hand look Monday at the restoration work on Trinity-East Island, part of a $167 million project that will use money from BP oil spill fines to restore several islands off Terrebonne and Lafourche.
“It’s really good to be out here and see first hand the work that has taken place,” Edwards said. “We have to do the most critical work first, and that’s why we’re standing on the barrier islands because this the first line of defense against approaching storms.”
Pipelines are pumping 9.2 million cubic yards of sand from Ship Shoal, a formation about 15 miles away, onto Trinity-East and Timbalier islands and the West Belle Headland. The sand, enough to fill the Superdome more than twice, will build 1,100 acres of marsh, dune and beach.
Work began in summer 2019 and is expected to be complete in January.
“In terms of acreage across the three islands, the Terrebonne Basin Barrier Island and Beach Nourishment project is our biggest barrier island restoration project yet,” said Bren Haase, executive director of the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which is leading the work.
“These barrier islands act as protection to our interior wetland systems, as our first line of defense from storm surge and as a buffer for the communities in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes,” he said. “With this historic project, we’re making a huge stride toward a more sustainable coast.”
Trinity-East Island is part of the Isle Dernières Wildlife Refuge, a once-popular resort island. In 1856, Isle Dernière was destroyed by the Last Island Hurricane, causing it to eventually split into five individual islands.
Decades of erosion and storms have battered the islands, and work is just restarting after last season’s hurricanes disrupted the project.
“The Terrebonne Basin Barrier Island project marks a critical point for coastal restoration efforts in southeast Louisiana,” Edwards said. “CPRA’s previously-completed projects prevented 2020’s intense hurricane season from becoming even more destructive, and with more resiliency efforts, we are continuing to build a better future for coastal Louisiana. This large-scale project proves just what can be done with great planning and great collaboration.”
Among the project’s highlights:
► Trinity-East island will get 2.5 miles of continuous shoreline and 263 acres of beach habitat.
► On Timbalier Island, work will repair areas breached by Gulf tides and construct beach and marsh in a 2.8-mile stretch encompassing 409 acres.
► West Belle Headland, a strip of land that helps protect the Gulf oilfield service hub at Port Fourchon, will get about 525 acres of restored beach and marsh. Work on that section is being redesigned damage from Hurricane Zeta in October.
“The protection this project will provide to levees, homes, and businesses in the region is invaluable,” said Terrebonne Parish President Dove. “The future of coastal Louisiana depends on our actions today, not years down the line, and the Terrebonne Basin project plays a crucial role in brightening that future.”
“We saw last year just how important our barrier islands are as the first line of protection during hurricane season,” Lafourche Parish President Archie Chaisson added. “Projects like these provide countless benefits to our coastal communities and protect critical infrastructure like Port Fourchon and La. 1.”
Chip Kline, chairman of the state coastal agency, said the work is part of the state’s $50 billion, 50-year coastal master plan.
“The Terrebonne Basin project continues the incredible restoration of our entire barrier island chain, restoring some of Louisiana’s most vulnerable landscapes stretching from Whiskey Island below Houma and Cocodrie to Sandy Point near Venice in Plaquemines Parish,” Kline said.
“In places without barrier islands, we’re rebuilding and fortifying our beaches and shorelines all the way west to Cameron Parish,” he said. “This perimeter defense works in conjunction with the vast areas of land we’re restoring in our major basins to strengthen protection for coastal and inland areas alike.”