I recently received a letter from an executive at Shell US Gas and Power LLC, regarding a petition I had signed earlier in the year. The purpose of this petition is irrelevant in regards to what I am about to share with you.
This executive made the following statement: “I am proud of Shell’s long history of environmental responsibility. We have contributed more than $10 million during the past 6 years to wetlands protection and marine habitat enhancement programs.”
To the average person, this might sound like a good chunk of money. And it is…but not in the grand scope of things.
I work for an environmental consulting firm in Houma, LA, approximately 50 miles west of New Orleans. I began working here after Katrina hit, when I lost my job in New Orleans to floodwater. For the majority of my time with this company, my primary client has been a landowner who owns 150,000 acres in St. Bernard Parish—the parish directly southeast of New Orleans that offers the most hurricane protection to the city. This is also the parish that the infamous MRGO (Mississippi River Gulf Outlet) runs through. You probably heard mention of this channel on the news, as many believe it was storm surge traveling up the MRGO that caused the levee breaks in New Orleans.
Over the course of the past six months, I have learned a lot about the city, as well as the wetlands that protect it, and how to fix those parishes to prevent this from happening again. And believe me when I tell you: 10 MILLION DOLLARS IS NOTHING.
We are currently working on a restoration plan for St. Bernard Parish that will affect 230,000 acres of wetlands, estuaries, and populated regions. This plan, still in its preliminary stages, calls for a wide variety of restoration activities such as marsh creation, nourishment, plantings, shoreline protection, ridge and levee rebuilding, and barrier island restoration…as well as a HUGE scale freshwater diversion that is still undergoing a feasibility study. The cost estimate for this restoration, not including the freshwater diversion, will cost between 500 million and 1 billion dollars. These are not government inflated estimates, folks. These are bare basic estimates from our engineering department and our company’s many years of experience.
So, allow me to share with you EXACTLY what 10 million dollars can do.
Rebuild 196 acres of a barrier island (Chandeleur Island, the primary barrier island guarding SE Louisiana, lost 2206 acres just from Katrina)
Plant 400 acres of vegetation (2% of all vegetation in wetlands is eaten away by muskrats and other destructive animals each year—for St. Bernard Parish, this would mean needing 4,600 acres of vegetation restoration annually)
Build 90,900 feet of bank armament or shoreline protection (sounds good, until you realize that Louisiana has over 40 million feet of shoreline)
Build 22-66 water control structures (dams, weirs, floodgates), depending on the size. Our plan, just for St. Bernard Parish, calls for 11 structures of varying size)
Dredge in enough sediment to recreate 2,083 acres of marsh (St. Bernard Parish lost 6,822 acres from Katrina)
Create 2000 acres of terraces (terraces are small ridges built within open water areas to decrease the amount of wake that rolls across them, thus lowering wake erosion and storm surge)—Louisiana contains more than 1.9 million acres of inland waters.
Plant over 6.6 million trees—unfortunately, tree planting isn’t a highly called for restoration method, because they can only be planted on ridges and levees, and only in areas of a low enough salinity that the trees can handle…it’s a delicate balance.
Provide 833 acres of degraded wetlands with nourishment (a method where nutrient-rich sediment is sprayed on top of wetlands that have begun to degrade to build up land and cause plant regrowth—it mimics the natural occurrence of sediment deposition, like what would occur if the river overtopped its banks during a flood—the way things worked before humans started damming and leveeing the river)—Louisiana contains approximately 3 million acres of wetlands, and degradation occurs every day as higher salinity waters encroach further inland.
Provide 400,000 yards of ridge refurbishment and/or levee building (ridges prevent high salinity waters from moving inland, as well as act as a natural storm surge barrier during hurricanes). One area of our project, covering a little over 8618 acres of land, requires over 1.1 million yards of ridge refurbishment.