The ribbon of marshland between New Orleans East and Slidell is referred to as the New Orleans East Landbridge. The strip of land protects people from storm surge. Like other parts of the coast, it’s eroding - and as sea levels rise, that could make flooding worse on both the north shore and the south shore of Lake Ponchartrain.
The state of Louisiana is often the entity advocating for specific coastal restoration projects, but now the city of New Orleans is getting involved. WWNO’s Travis Lux spoke with New Orleans Coastal Program Manager Anne Coglianese about the Landbridge restoration, and the city’s involvement.
This interview transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: We’re standing on the side of Chef Menteur Highway, in the heart of the New Orleans East Landbridge, across the street from the Venetian Isles neighborhood. There’s marsh near us. We’re not on the marsh right now, but it’s all around us and this larger restoration project is happening all around us. Why is this marsh important?
This marsh may seem far away for most New Orleanians. But it’s actually critically important to everyone living in the city. It’s the main barrier between the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Pontchartrain. It provides flood protection to the residents of Venetian Isles and the Lake Catherine community, but it also is one of our first lines of defense against storm surge as it approaches the city.
Q: And so if it washes away entirely what is that going to mean?
The Lake would suddenly be the Gulf. Our levees were built post-Katrina. They are strong and will perform as designed, but they weren’t designed to have the Gulf lapping at their walls. So it’s really important that we maintain this barrier, because the levees can handle wind surge, but not entire Gulf surge.
Q: You’re saying, essentially, the levees were designed under the assumption that this land would exist in the future?
Exactly. And that there is a distinction between the Gulf and the Lake.
Q: Some money has been awarded to start rebuilding a section of this landbridge marsh -- section by section -- to the tune of about $20 million for a section not far from here. How will this marsh rebuilding be done? Will sediment be trucked in from another place? Are they going to plant a bunch of marsh plants? What’s the plan?
It’s the US Fish and Wildlife Service that received this money. They’re going to be the primary ones executing the construction of the marsh project. It’ll be a mix of marsh grass plantings and sediment dredging to both build new marsh in this area, and also maintain the current marsh that exists -- prevent it from eroding away further.
Q: When the project is done -- whenever that is -- what’s it going to look like? How’s it going to look different?
Right now the marsh is fairly patchy. You’ll see marsh grass but you’ll also see where water has infiltrated it. So what this project will do is it’ll expand the marsh area. You’ll see more marsh grass, you’ll see more plants in that area. But you’ll also see some of these channels closed up. So it’ll seem like a complete section of land rather than these fragmented pieces.
Q: And about how long do you think that will take?
I would expect that this project would go out to bid in about a year. There’s some permitting that needs to be done. But the biggest hurdle is always securing the funding, and it really wouldn’t have been possible, I think, without the support that the city put into it. Both the mayor and the city council were very active in the decision making process, and argued pretty hard for the needs of this project in this area.
Q: The city isn’t actually the entity constructing this project. It seems like, until recently, the city has been a little more focused on lobbying for walls and that kind of protection. Is this a change of tune for the city to be talking about coastal restoration? Or has this always been happening?
It’s certainly and increased focus. At this point we recognize that there’s a limit to what grey infrastructure -- just levees -- can do. And that these marshes really are our first line of defense to storm surge. So there’s an increased focus on specifically the landbridge, but also coastal restoration across the state.
Louisiana loses a football field of land every 100 minutes and each section of marsh that gets lost puts New Orleans a little bit closer to the Gulf. So we’re working really hard to make sure we’re involved in the conversations across the state about coastal restoration and coastal protection.
Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Walton Family Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Foundation for Louisiana, and local listeners.