Habitat restoration project underway in Bayou St. John

Water quality improvements and habitat restoration as well as service as an educational tool seem like a heavy load of responsibility for a half-acre marsh restoration project, but that’s what the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation is building on Bayou St. John.

“It’s not a huge project, but it’s a great location,” said John Lopez, executive director of the foundation.

Work to improve the quality of the bayou running along the edge of City Park in New Orleans has been going on for more than 10 years, he said. Residents of the area, the foundation and others have been working to reconnect this historic bayou with the lake, and recently, some important progress has been achieved.

In December, an old flood-control structure was removed to help facilitate water flow from Lake Pontchartrain to the bayou for the first time in decades, thanks to money and work provided by the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and others.

A newer flood-control structure has been operating on the bayou for about 20 years and the old one wasn’t needed, or even working properly.

Now, in a separate but connected project, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation is starting to use material dredged from the bayou to build a half-acre of marsh on the lake side of the control structure.

“We think it will recruit species into the bayou,” Lopez said. “It also benefits Lake Pontchartrain.”

The concrete seawall that runs along the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain means there’s no longer a marsh fringe that provides habitat for young aquatic species, such as fish and crabs, he said. Creating some new marsh in this area sets up something unique on the south shore, he said.

“We think it will enhance the fisheries and ecology of the lake,” Lopez said. “It’s not a huge marsh, but it’s a rare habitat now.”

There is dredging work underway as part of a water quality project at the bayou. The work is designed to help open up a channel that has silted in. Some of that dredged material will be used to fill large “Deltalok” bags, a little larger than typical sandbags.

The bags will be stacked and secured to form the outline of where the material dredged from the bayou will be deposited to create the new marsh area. The next step calls for other dredge material to be pumped into the area between this retaining wall and the bulkhead onshore by Anders Construction, the same company doing the channel dredging, Lopez said.

It’s an opportunity for Environmental Management Solutions LLC, also known as EMS Green, to showcase its Deltalok technology while helping to create the marsh platform.

“For the past three years, we’ve been working diligently to get on some of these coastal projects,” said one of the group’s three partners, Jay Loprano. Although EMS Green has done a few self-funded projects, this will be the first time the company will be building a project for another party, he said.

The ultimate funding goal is for the foundation to raise $100,000 to cover the cost of the project’s construction and maintenance while also developing educational programs, which could help demonstrate marsh restoration and ecology.

On Friday, the foundation received a $68,000 donation from Kinder Morgan, a company working with the foundation as it builds a pipeline across Lake Pontchartrain.

There are some other financial commitments that have been made, Lopez said, but the Kinder Morgan gift is by far the largest received to date and will help cover construction and maintenance for a few years.

The Restore the Earth Foundation will be working with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation this fall in planting the newborn marsh area with grasses to help hold everything in place.

In the meantime, the foundation is looking for volunteers to help out with the project in the coming weeks so as to keep construction costs down.

For instance, anyone who is able to do heavy manual labor, such as moving 40-pound sandbags, is asked to contact the foundation at saintjohnwetland@gmail.com.

The work should be completed, weather permitting, in four to six weeks.