Inside Report: While waters recede, other features form

Louisiana is no stranger to seeing landmarks in its coastal zone disappearing. Boat global positioning systems regularly show pilots the land they’re driving over. Well, it was land at one point but has since disappeared under the bayous and lakes.

In 2013, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released new charts for the waters to the west of Plaquemines Parish that took off 31 place names because those places existed in name only. Areas like Yellow Cotton Bay, Bob Taylors Pond, Williams Pass and Bayou Caiman were officially taken off the map. The outline of these features were gone and the names put on the historic list.

Now, there’s a chance to actually add a name as a new feature along the east bank of the lower Mississippi River continues to evolve.

Mardi Gras Pass formed on Mardi Gras day in 2012 following the record high water levels of 2011. Located on the east bank of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish, the water started flowing to the east and it’s progress as a developing pass, or distributary of the Mississippi River, and continues now.

Staff at the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation have been following the evolution of the pass since its inception.

“We do think it’s cool to have something new on a map rather than things being taken off,” said John Lopez, executive director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. “We’re very pleased it’s going to be recognized and put on the charts.”

People are already using the Mardi Gras Pass to navigate from the Mississippi River to the marshes east of the river, he said. The closest access points from the river to these marshes are located 50 miles up river or 20 miles down river from this location.

The possibility of nominating the pass for an official name has been talked about for years. Conversations with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Geological Survey and coastal advocates led to DOTD submitting the request to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names in July, said James Mitchell, Information Technology GIS manager at the state Department of Transportation and Development as well as the Geospatial Service manager for the state.

DOTD put together a “story map” for the Mardi Gras Pass as part of the information submitted to the board that outlines the history, location and uses.

“What I want to do is do that for every geographic name we’re involved with,” Mitchell said.

Usually, suggested names come from other sources and DOTD is consulted by the board on any concerns. This is the first name DOTD has submitted on its own, he said. It’s uncertain when the board, charged with standardizing place names, will make a decision.

“It’s just a way to put something on the map,” Mitchell said.

Lopez said getting an official name for the pass won’t have any impact on whether it remains open or gets closed off.

A problem remains about what to do with the road the Mardi Gras Pass took out, removing access to an oil facility. There have been talks about putting in a bridge to allow the pass to flow instead of a road with culverts. The company requested the road, but that would have reduced river flow to about 80 percent of what it is now, he said.

In the meantime, the process to get the pass a name, whatever it’s final shape or form will be, continues.

“We’re very pleased it’s going to be recognized and put on the charts,” Lopez said.

Amy Wold covers environmental issues for The Advocate. Follow her on Twitter, @awold10.