The search for funds to restore two small islands in Plaquemines Parish should get a bit of a boost from a new Ducks Unlimited lithograph to be unveiled Saturday.
The artwork will help raise awareness about these bird habitat islands — Cat Island east and Cat Island west — that are disappearing and raise money for a restoration project that Plaquemines Parish coastal director P.J. Hahn has been working to move forward.
“I’m doing everything short of a bake sale to raise the money to rebuild this island,” Hahn said, referring to his efforts to get one project off the ground that will restore both islands.
The restoration is not included in the state’s master plan for coastal restoration and protection, so there’s no dedicated funding or planning to prevent these islands from disappearing.
Finding the money to do the work means bringing together funding and efforts from a variety of sources, he said, and that involves raising awareness that there is a problem.
Robert Garrity Jr., state chairman of Ducks Unlimited, said although the organization usually focuses on wetland restoration projects, having spent $64 million in Louisiana over the past 20 years, the Cat Island project is important.
The fate of these islands represents what is happening throughout the coast with land loss on barrier islands and marsh that help protect wetlands, he said.
“Cat Island is the poster child of what’s been going on and what is going on,” Garrity said. “We can take this message and in a matter of months, get it out to 600,000 people.”
A focus on wetland and habitat restoration is important to Ducks Unlimited and its members, he said.
“Looking at the flyway, if those ducks aren’t fat and happy on their way back, they don’t get back,” he said. “It’s our job to keep the habitat.”
So far, Hahn said, he has commitments of $1.5 million from the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, $1.2 million from the state, and $300,000 from Plaquemines Parish. In addition, Tulane University is working to get a grant to plant vegetation on the islands once the construction is finished, Hahn said.
Kerry St. Pe, executive director of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, said his organization has been working on restoring Pelican Island, which is another bird nesting spot.
Although it received money from Shell and other sources, it wasn’t enough to cover the restoration project, St. Pe said. The organization joined with Plaquemines Parish so the two could use what resources they have more effectively for both areas of the islands.
“These islands are very important to nesting birds because there’s no predators on them,” St. Pe said. “The real tragedy is that they were virtually wiped out by the oil spill.”
The hope is that some of the money from the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Program, a process by which the damage caused by the BP oil leak is quantified in order for the responsible party to pay for restoration of the areas damaged, can be used to help with the island restoration costs, he said.
Garret Graves, director of the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, said the state asked the U.S. Coast Guard and BP in November 2010 for emergency restoration money from the NRDA process to do a number of projects.
The NRDA process can take years to complete, but there are provisions for emergency restoration funding to be made available for areas that need immediate attention. Graves said the state asked that these small-bird nesting islands be included in any emergency funding.
The Coast Guard and BP refused the request, Graves said, so the state pulled together other funding, including Coastal Impact Assistance Program and emergency state funds. Because the situation wasn’t deemed an emergency, the normal permitting process stayed in place so it’s taken time to get things moving, he said.
The restoration of the islands is now under design but the concept is to surround the islands with a hard barrier such as large baskets that contain rock or other material. After the barrier is in place, dredged material will be used to fill in the interiors of each barrier so that the islands are brought back up to 15 acres.
That’s far less than their historic size, which was as much as 40 acres each in 1998, but enough to keep the islands from disappearing in the next storm event, Hahn said.
On Cat Island west, the island was 360 acres in 1930, down to 40 acres in 1998 and to four acres in 2010 before the Deepwater Horizon/BP explosion and subsequent heavy oiling. Today, the island is less than an acre and is still shrinking, putting the birds that use the island in more danger, Hahn said.
At Cat Island east, the island was about five acres before the spill in 2010 and now it’s a sand spit with some vegetation that may be 100 yards long and 30 yards wide.
The restoration plan for both islands will be about the same with construction taking place at the same time to minimize the expense of having to mobilize a dredge and equipment out to the site twice.
Although Hahn said the parish has commitments of $3 million so far, that likely won’t be enough. A final cost estimate won’t be available until the design of the restoration work is completed, he said.
Hahn said he wants the islands restored soon so the birds have a place to return to next year and the year after that.
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