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Friday, February 3, 2023

Meraux Foundation Plantings Continue Along the MRGO

LA-39 Coastwide vegetative planting.

Photo Courtesy of the Meraux Foundation

By Todd Ragusa

Coastal restoration plantings identified and designed by the Meraux Foundation became reality this past August and are now doing their work to restore and preserve critical wetlands on the front lines of Louisiana’s imperiled coast. 

The plantings were done along 14,100 linear feet of the Southwest shoreline of the old Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) channel. It is part of the LA-39 Coastwide Vegetative Planting project of the Coastal Wetland Planning Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA). 

“A total of some 21,000 Smooth Cordgrass vegetative plugs were installed with a layout varying from one to eight rows along the water’s edge,” said Quin Kindler of the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who managed the project.

The Meraux Foundation’s Coastal and Environmental Manager Blaise Pezold added, “These are native plants, well-adapted to the conditions along the channel and will work as a protective barrier to erosion from hurricanes, fetch, and boat wakes. In fact, I went out there this week, and the plants fared well during Hurricane Ida. It’s a critical restoration effort to help the land heal from the damage done over the years by the MRGO.”

During the 1960s the federal government dug the MRGO as a shipping shortcut to the Gulf of Mexico. The channel severely affected the surrounding marshlands and greatly diminished the natural lines of defense to coastal erosion. It impacted over a million acres of coastal habitat, destroying tens of thousands of acres of protective wetlands.

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, communities along the MRGO were victims of the short-sighted channel and the damage to wetlands. After Katrina, there were widespread calls for restoration of the MRGO ecosystem, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ New Orleans District office receiving a record-breaking 70,000-plus public comments. In 2009, a rock dam was built to close MRGO in St. Bernard Parish, a crucial first step in the ecosystem’s restoration. 

It’s tragic that it took such destruction and loss of life to illustrate to us all just how crucial and beneficial our wetlands are — especially here in Louisiana and in St. Bernard,” said Bill Haines, a board member of the Meraux Foundation.

“Fortunately, we can be a part of the solution. We are so proud to be able to contribute in this effort with these plantings.” 

The closure of the navigational channel has benefited more square miles of Louisiana’s coastal ecosystems than any other restoration and recovery project implemented since Katrina. As a result, the hydrology of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin, from Biloxi Marsh to the Maurepas Swamp north of Lake Pontchartrain, is being restored. 

“It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate project than this one in realizing the vision of my Great Aunt Arlene Meraux when she established the Meraux Foundation for St. Bernard,” Haines continued. “It’s a privilege to make a difference in our community that will benefit generations down the line.”

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