What To Do With Bayou Bienvenue?: Greg Miller

Jun 4, 2014

Greg Miller.
Credit Laine Kaplan-Levenson / WWNO

The Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle of today is what is called a “ghost swamp”. Until the 1960s, it was a full of cypress trees, part of the central wetlands system that ran from the Lower 9th Ward all the way to Lake Borgne. But destructive forces — from levee and canal construction to invasive species — turned this freshwater swamp into a saltwater marsh, killing all the cypress trees in the process. You see their dead trunks like scarecrows in the water, and don’t see much else.

"What we're really after here is to demonstrate that you can use all of these techniques in combination to achieve swamp restoration. And that would be a first-of-its-kind effort."

When the Wetland Triangle was a swamp it provided the surrounding community with natural resources like fish, game and timber, and protected the area from storm damage and coastal erosion. Most of the wildlife that inhabited the swamp is gone, as is the native vegetation that safeguarded the land.

Now, the Bayou Bienvenue Triangle has been included in the “Master Plan” to restore the Louisiana coast. Few dispute this as good news, but there are varying perspectives on how and why the landscape has changed, and differing opinions on how it should be restored. What happened here? What restoration strategy now makes the most sense for this specific area? Should restoring this small section be prioritized compared to other, larger parts of the central wetlands?

Five people walked out to the Bayou Bienvenue platform, a wooden walkway at Florida and Caffin Avenues, to overlook the land as it is now and consider these questions.

Cypress trees in planting boxes in Bayou Bienvenue.
Credit Eve Troeh / WWNO

Greg Miller is the head of the Plan Formulation Office of the Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans. He puts plans before Congress related to navigation, flood risk management, and ecosystem restoration. He’s involved in executing the restoration of Bayou Bienvenue from its current state of saltwater marsh back to freshwater cypress swamp.

“We'd really like to sit and work with some of the biologists and ecologists and other interest groups that would like to see the area restored, and come up with a true landscape design on how the project would be constructed. The exact placement of plants,” he says. “You know, it's not just going to be a carpet of material. You want it to look like a natural system, and so there'll be small creeks and tidal creeks and bayous that may connect to the larger Bayou Bienvenue.”

“Part of the plan is not just the reconstruction or rebuilding and restoration of wetlands, but to put in a boardwalk system so that families can come out and enjoy it, schoolchildren can come out here and learn, and people can just have an opportunity to see what a wetland — literally in the heart of the city — can look like when it's restored.”

“So far in Louisiana, we've done a lot of marsh restoration and barrier island restoration, and we've done shore protection to stop wave-driven erosion, but we've not rebuilt a cypress swamp yet. And what we're really after here is to demonstrate that you can use all of these techniques in combination to achieve swamp restoration. And that would be a first-of-its-kind effort.”

Support for coastal reporting on WWNO comes from the Walton Family Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Kabacoff Family Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.