Plaquemines Parish signs agreement on use of dredged material

Material dredged from the lower Mississippi River for navigation purposes could find its way into marsh creation projects as a result of a new agreement signed Wednesday between Plaquemines Parish and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Government agencies, coastal advocacy groups and local residents have long called for using more of this dredged material to create coastal wetlands instead of releasing the material into the river or the Gulf of Mexico.

“Everybody agrees we shouldn’t be taking sediment out of the Mississippi River and dump it offshore,” said Plaquemines President Billy Nungesser.

The agreement is the latest step in making the Louisiana Coastal Area Beneficial Use of Dredged Material Program a reality.

Under the program, the Corps conducts normal dredging operations on the river through regular funding mechanisms but the LCA program then pays to move the material to a marsh-creation area, said Col. Richard Hansen, the corps’ New Orleans district commander.

Design work on these marsh creation areas is going on now, but in general they will be located in the West Bay diversion area and around West Pass.

How soon construction starts depends largely on getting federal funding. President Barack Obama’s proposed fiscal year 2015 budget includes $10 million for this construction work, Hansen said.

“That provides us a valuable first step,” he said.

Nungesser said the program could be expanded to create additional storm-surge protection.

Also, planning will be conducted to build ridges of land in certain areas of the Mississippi River delta near the marsh creation areas. These ridges appear to provide a “speed bump” to river water flowing through certain bays, helping settle sediment the river water may be carrying.

In addition to being the local sponsor, the parish also put up $1.2 million toward engineering and design.

Similar arrangements have been made in other parts of the state, such as work done on the Calcasieu Ship Channel, except that additional money to place sediment in the marsh there comes from a collaboration of the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act and the Port of Lake Charles and Terminal District.

A challenge along the Mississippi River was finding a non-federal sponsor to partner with the corps, but that role was taken up by Plaquemines Parish.

“We look forward to more partnerships with Plaquemines Parish and with the state,” Hansen said.

Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.