Fight brewing over how to fix La. coast

St. Mary Parish, La. – Dr. Robert Twilley, an LSU coastal scientist, grabs a handful of river sediment, the building blocks for one of the newest places on earth.

“When you feel it, you can feel the silt and you can feel the particles that are in this landscape that help build this land,” Twilley said.

Like many supporters of Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, Twilley points to an accidental paradise southwest of Morgan City as an example of the power of the river.

In 1941, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, aiming to prevent flooding along the Atchafalaya River in Morgan City, cut a new channel to the Gulf of Mexico.

At the mouth of the Wax Lake Outlet, a 30,000-acre delta has formed.

Today, fresh water pond weeds grow where the land sticks its toe into the Gulf of Mexico.

A couple miles to the north, 30-foot willow trees tower over islands that appeared in the 1980’s.

“This willow is sort of like the weed tree of coastal Louisiana,” Twilley said, noting these new forests are important hurricane protection for Morgan City. “Wherever you find high ground and no salt, this is the tree that you’ll find.”

However, Louisiana’s ambitious plans to rebuild coastline have sparked an increasingly intense fight over river diversions.

“Those who oppose diversions ridiculously assert that the river water is poison,” said Chuck Perrodin, spokesman for the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. “This proves them wrong.”

In fact, nothing about the state’s coastal restoration plan creates more controversy than the idea of cutting holes in levees, diverting fresh water into the marsh and into fisheries.”

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