Largest marsh restoration project at Lake Borgne eyes 2025 completion date; see updates
Over the last 50 years, saltwater intrusion and coastal erosion have turned Lake Borgne and its surrounding areas into swaths of unprotected, open water. But an ongoing $114.6 million Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority project has aimed to recreate that lost land.
The Lake Borgne Marsh Creation Project started 18 months ago and still has a long way to go — as of Friday, the project is about 20% complete, according to project manager Barry Richard.
Once it is complete, more than 2,769 acres of marsh will be built along a four-mile southern shoreline that stretches from Lake Borgne near Shell Beach all the way to Lena Lagoon.
Construction on the marsh is split into seven containment dikes – where 4-and-a-half foot walls are being built around areas of open water and marsh. During the project's first 18 months, excavators have picked up dirt to build up the dikes. Eventually, that dirt dredged from Lake Borgne placed in these containments is expected to restore degraded marsh.
“This is not rocket science — we’re just moving dirt,” Richard said.
Currently two of the containment dikes are complete and being filled with dirt. Once the dirt has settled, vegetation will start to spread and strengthen the marsh area. He said that these natural buffers will help alleviate the burden floodgates and levees shoulder when protecting the state against weather disasters.
It’s the largest marsh creation project by acreage, CPRA chairman Chip Kline said, and settlement dollars from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill are footing the bill..
“When I started at CPRA, a large-scale marsh creation project was somewhere in the neighborhood of about 400 acres of marsh, and now we have a project that's creating almost 3,000 acres of land,” Kline said last Friday, when CPRA held a tour of the project site to provide updates to state officials and the media.
In attendance was State Rep. Ray Garofalo (R-Chalmette), who grew up in St. Bernard Parish and said he has watched the marshland shrink in the area. He said the project is critical to protecting people’s livelihoods, culture and restoring a disappearing coast.
“I remember the coastal St. Bernard Parish being a lot more resilient and having a lot more vegetation than it does now and having a lot more land. I've seen it with my own eyes,” Garofalo said.
A big contributor to the land loss along Lake Borgne’s shoreline is the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), which officials traversed through to get to the marsh creation project. The MRGO borders Lake Borgne, and rocks on the lake’s shoreline have eroded away because of it.
The MRGO, constructed in the 1960s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is a 76-mile-long canal that was used as a shortcut from the New Orleans Port for the Gulf of Mexico. During Hurricane Katrina, the MRGO caused major storm surge to funnel into the city and caused widespread damage. This led to the channel being closed and blocked off in 2009. The area is still recovering from the environmental damage.
St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis said during the tour that the federal government committed to completely fund the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet Ecosystem Restoration in December to fix the damage caused by the channel. This comes after years of going back and forth between state and federal authorities on who has the responsibility to pay for the project.
“That's what this is. It's a mitigation for the damage caused to the citizens of St. Bernard Parish for over the last 70 years,” McInnis said.
It isn’t immediately clear when federal dollars will be approved for the MRGO ecosystem restoration plan. However, other work around the channel has started around the state – and the Lake Borgne Marsh Creation project is expected to be completed in August 2025.
Since the CPRA began in 2005, more than 26 of the agency’s projects have been located in St. Bernard Parish, with a $6.5 billion total investment. Half of those projects have been completed and 4,700 acres of land have been created or restored. The other 13 active projects currently in progress will benefit nearly 5,000 acres.
The CPRA recently released an update to their 50-year, $50 billion plan to restore the state’s eroding coastline. The update demonstrated that more than half of the $50 billion funding is funneled into coastal restoration projects.