Residents have concerns

Local residents got a chance Tuesday night to sound off on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Natural Resources’ plans for the Louisiana Coastal Area study, which will help determine how the state and the nation attack Louisiana’s coastal wetlands loss.

There was a lot of concern evident in the residents who turned out at the Larose meeting, from the scope of local projects to be included in the study to the eventual effects of the large-scale project on local people such as shrimpers.

At the heart of the issue is the estimated $14 billion restoration effort that could take the state 50 years to complete. Coastal experts and state and federal officials know generally the kinds of projects that will help rebuild the coast. They will consist primarily of freshwater diversion projects, channels dug to carry fresh water and sediment from the Mississippi River into the coastal area. The fresh water will help wetlands plants survive while the sediment, it is hoped, can actually build more land in a place where land is currently disappearing.

Local residents are being asked for their input because the projects are not set in stone.

And that was the first concern, expressed by state Rep. Loulan Pitre Jr., R-Cut Off. The state has been divided into four “subprovinces,” and Lafourche Parish is in an area that stretches all the way to Plaquemines Parish. Pitre is concerned that the feds will place an overall emphasis on restoring wetlands acreage in each subprovince, meaning this particular area might get little or no help.

Then there is the proposal that would build a massive conveyance channel that would shadow Bayou Lafourche and bring large amounts of Mississippi River water to the Barataria and Terrebonne estuaries.

And there is the question of whether the government should proceed with diversion projects at all. Some professional shrimpers say the diversion projects will negatively affect their ability to earn a livelihood.

To be sure, an increased supply of fresh water will change the way shrimpers and other commercial fishermen attack their trades. The existing projects have affected oyster fishermen, but there is a program to compensate them for actual losses.

What must not be overlooked is that without some sort of wetlands restoration, the shrimpers and oyster fishermen will be out of business altogether because the fragile estuaries created by the wetlands will one day be gone.

We applaud all those who came out Tuesday and shared their thoughts with the folks who will ultimately decide the direction the projects will take. Although it has taken a long time to get this far, it seems that the movement to save Louisiana’s coastal wetlands finally has some significant momentum.

We can only hope it continues.