Project to restore Port Fourchon beachfront is nearing completion

11 25, 2012 by Houma Courier

A project to rebuild beach, dunes and marsh on Port Fourchon's rapidly eroding beachfront should wrap up this spring.

Called the West Belle Pass Headland project, the restoration work rebuilt about 8,500 feet of beach and dune with 1.7 million cubic yards of dredged sand.

The project also involved building nearly 220 acres of marsh and 93 acres of dunes.

"This project will provide important protection for Port Fourchon and the Lafourche community," said Simone Maloz, executive director of Thibodaux-based coastal advocacy group Restore or Retreat.

Dredging work to rebuild portions of the beach wrapped up last week, said Archie Chaisson III, Lafourche Parish coastal zone manager. Workers are assembling the sand fencing that will help prevent erosion on the newly built dunes, Chaisson said.

After that, work will end until the spring after the weather warms up when workers will return to plant marsh grasses and mangroves on the newly built marshland.

The work was contracted to Weeks Marine dredging company of Cranford, N.J., which is pulling in material from 10 miles offshore to rebuild the beach.

West Belle Pass work initially got off to a slow start with money for the restoration project approved in 2009 but caught up in bureaucratic delays.

The project is being done through the Coastal Wetlands Planning Protection and Restoration Act program, a state and federal partnership created to get restoration projects started.

The project was budgeted at $40 million, but construction bids for the restoration project came in low at $28.6 million, leaving buffer room to address problems such as tropical storms.

The project suffered some loss to Hurricane Isaac, which made landfall on Fourchon in late August, but Chaisson said dredging was able to reclaim what was lost.

"We lost some sand fencing, and the beach got ate up. There was a breach on the far western corner of the island that had to be plugged," he said.

The Caminada Headland, a strip of Gulf beaches and islands that includes Fourchon, has some of the highest rates of shoreline erosion in the nation, measuring more than 100 feet a year in some spots.

Its continued degradation threatens the fragile interior wetlands that remain around south Lafourche and threatens nearby Port Fourchon with stronger storm surges. Belle Pass functions as the mouth of Bayou Lafourche as it meets the Gulf and needs a solid bank.

In addition to the West Belle Pass work, the state is also beginning a more than $70 million project to build up six miles of beach and dunes along Fourchon's depleted shoreline. Work is scheduled to begin in the fall.

Chaisson said that bidding for that project was opened up earlier this week, and work on the restoration project could begin as early as February.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also working on a $446 million plan to rebuild the Caminada shoreline south of Port Fourchon and the mostly disappeared Shell Island, east of Grand Isle.

Maloz said although the West Belle Pass project isn't the biggest restoration project on the books, its near completion is a success story and "symbolic of more good projects to come."

Chaisson said he's happy to see the restoration work on Fourchon Beach coming along smoothly.

"It's about time we get this one wrapped up and get another one going," he said.