Coastal campus to be built at BR’s old municipal docks

Coastal campus to be built at BR’s old municipal docks

“We’re right at ground zero and there’s no better place to build this campus.” F. King Alexander, LSU president and chancellor

A longtime eyesore in downtown Baton Rouge will be transformed into a center of coastal education and research with a Water Center to be built at the old municipal docks just south of the Mississippi River bridge.

“This will be an internationally important center for inquiry, but also for solutions,” said John Davies, president and CEO of Baton Rouge Area Foundation.

Although The Water Institute of the Gulf and the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority will be at the heart of this new campus, Davies said, the site will also be home for federal agency representatives, private engineering companies and even nonprofit coastal organizations.

“The Water Campus will help connect downtown Baton Rouge with the LSU campus,” Gov. Bobby Jindal said at a press conference Tuesday announcing the project.

About $45 million will be used to build three projects at the 30-acre site, with construction to likely to begin in the summer of 2014, Jindal said.

The first project will be a large physical model of the Mississippi River that researchers can use to test various coastal restoration methods such as river diversions. The model, originally slated to be built on LSU’s campus, will enable researchers to put sediment into a scale model of the lower Mississippi River and then watch how that sediment moves. The project, funded by Coastal Impact Assistance Program money, will cost $16 million and take up 3.3 acres of the campus. The project will be built by the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and operated by LSU.

Chris D’Elia, professor and dean of the LSU School of the Coast and Environment, said the new location for the model will make it much more accessible to the public and will serve as a great education tool.

The second project is a coastal education and research facility that will house The Water Institute of the Gulf, a nonprofit organization established through the efforts of the state and BRAF. The $20 million facility will be on the old municipal docks and be paid for through $10 million in the state capital outlay budget and $10 million from the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

The third project will be a $9 million building to house the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which is charged with coastal restoration and protection projects and planning in Louisiana.

As the state moves forward with putting the $50 billion, 50-year state master plan for coastal restoration and protection into action, gathering the numerous agencies and researchers involved in the effort together just makes sense, said Garret Graves, chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

“To make sure we have the best science to make the best choices,” Graves said. “Making sure when we make mistakes we make them one time.”

Jindal noted the state is emerging as a world leader in coastal engineering and science developed over years of trying to find answers to the problem of Louisiana’s coastal land loss. That growing expertise is expected to translate into significant economic development and job creation for the state.

He said it’s believed the water management industry will provide an additional 20,00 to 45,000 new jobs in Louisiana through 2030.

The Water Center project will also benefit Baton Rouge, he said, and make use of something that has been a concern for years.

“I don’t know how many times we’ve seen that dock on a list of blighted properties,” Jindal said with a laugh and to nods from Mayor-President Kip Holden.

“For years we’ve been saying we have to do something with the dock,” Holden said. The dock was built in the 1920s but as the Port of Greater Baton Rouge grew, the city dock was used less and eventually abandoned. Various potential uses for the dock and surrounding area have been proposed over the years, including use as a casino or as an office building with restaurant.

This project, Holden said, will help bring in not only economic development, but will help the area become a cultural and education center.

LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander said the work at the center will help Louisiana communities not only address coastal land loss and hurricane protection, but will produce ideas to help communities around the world dealing with similar issues.

“We’re right at ground zero and there’s no better place to build this campus,” he said.