Bayou Chene Floodgate Protection Project Celebrates Completion

Recently, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to celebrate the completion of the Bayou Chene Floodgate, a long-heralded project designed to protect southeastern Louisiana parishes against backwater flooding from the Atchafalaya River, according to this article from the Houma Times.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony saw Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards joining the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), the St. Mary Levee District, and other state and local leaders to celebrate the completion of the $80 million flood control structure. CPRA Chairman Chip Kline commented on the impact that will result from the completion of the 446-foot floodgate by saying, “the completion of the Bayou Chene Floodgate is a gamechanger for the homes and businesses across this six-parish region. With its installation, nearly 30,000 residents will be protected from Atchafalaya River backwater flooding.”

The Bayou Chene Flood Protection Project, which was completed using funding from the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) and in partnership with the St. Mary Levee District, is positioned to act as a permanent structure and prevent Atchafalaya River backwater flooding from impacting St. Mary, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Martin, Assumption, and Iberville parishes.

Governor Edwards commented on the ongoing problem that Atchafalaya River backwater flooding has caused for the past fifty years saying, “this region has relied on temporary measures to prevent backwater flooding since the 1970s. With the completion of this decades-long effort, the people of St. Mary and the five surrounding parishes can rest easier knowing they’re protected by a permanent flood control structure. I applaud the collaboration between CPRAand the St. Mary Levee District that brought this important project to fruition.”

Before the Bayou Chene Floodgate, rising water levels in the Mississippi River would cause the Morganza Control Structure to open during high water events, thus diverting water from the Mississippi River to the Atchafalaya Basin. When this happens, the excess water creates backwater flooding and threatens the surrounding area. Now, the new structure will eliminate the need to sink temporary barges in the Bayou in times of high water, a flood-prevention act that has needed to happen four times since 2011, costing between $5.5 to $8 million per flood each time. The overall Bayou Chene Floodgate Project was a long-term investment from CPRA to eliminate this recurring cost, so the $80 million costs will surely be paid back over the next century.

Governor Edwards said of the expenditure, “this is a tremendous investment — it’s going to pay for itself over and over and over again.” According to Gov. Edwards, those temporary solutions to the problem would take approximately 10 days to install each time a flooding event would occur, but now the Bayou Chene Floodgate will only take 10 hours to close.

The Bayou Chene Floodgate was a component of the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, and the efforts to complete the project were led by Louisiana Senator Bret Allain (R-Franklin) and State Representative Sam Jones (D-Franklin). Louisiana Sen. Bret Allain commented, saying that the impact of the project’s completion will be seen in the protection of 6,000 households and 1,000 businesses, totaling nearly 30,000 residents who will be impacted by the extra safety measure.

The executive director of the St. Mary Levee District, Tim Matte, spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony in a prepared statement in which he relayed the state’s increased confidence in dealing with the challenges that are brought along with a rising Atchafalaya River and also that the previous temporary measures would be effective but ultimately costly and risky. Matte said, “now with the completion of the permanent structure, we can close the Bayou in a timely manner, with minimal impacts to the navigation interests, minimal risks to team members, and with minimal environmental impacts to the region.”

The ceremony concluded with CPRA Chairman Chip Kline celebrating the ongoing $1.3 billion dollars that have been allocated this year for ongoing state coastal projects. Kline said, “we’ve got a lot more work ahead of us,” Kline said. “And I know that if we continue with the partnerships and collaboration and coordination we’re going to be successful in protecting the overwhelming majority of our citizens and restoring our coast.”

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Surplus Funding for Louisiana Coastal Restoration and Protection

Alongside the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards recently announced a proposal to allocate $150 million in surplus funding toward coastal restoration and protection projects, as per the governor’s office.

During the April press conference, Governor Edwards announced his proposal by saying, “at this moment, we are reaping the rewards of over a decade and a half of planning and implementation efforts. We have invested in the science and directed every available dollar toward projects that deliver real benefits to our people. Our track record of investment and implementation has allowed CPRA’s program to grow steadily into the success story it is today. The confidence we have in our coastal program has now been reaffirmed by an even larger investment from the federal government. I am now asking the Legislature to help us recover further from the devastating hurricanes of 2020 and 2021 by dedicating $150 million of state surplus to projects that will make us safer and more resilient well into the future.”

At the press conference, Col. Stephen Murphy, the commander of the USACE New Orleans District, commented on the Governor’s office’s push toward coastal restoration. Col. Murphy said, “coastal Louisiana’s importance to the Nation is underscored by the Administration and Congress’ recent investment of more than $2.6 billion under the Disaster Relief Supplemental Appropriations and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs acts. We look forward to our continued partnership with the State of Louisiana in delivering their commitment to support the area’s recovery and improve its resiliency to future conditions.”

The $150 in surplus funding will be allocated to fifteen total coastal projects, with $84.5 million being directed toward restoration efforts and $65 million toward hurricane and flood protection projects across 13 parishes. The many projects range from $200,000 allocated for the LSU Center for River Studies in Baton Rouge to $38 million being allocated for the design and construction of the Northwest Little Lake Marsh Creation in Lafourche Parish.

The full list, which can be viewed here, includes $30 million for construction of the Pailet and Crown Point Basin polders of the Lafitte Tidal Protection project in Jefferson Parish, $12 million for construction of the LaBranche Shoreline Protection project in St. Charles Parish, $2 million toward funding the Atchafalaya Basin Program for environmental restoration efforts and enhanced recreational opportunities, and $10 million toward the Southwest Coastal Project in Cameron, Calcasieu, and Vermilion parishes. Additionally, $5 million will be allocated toward various Vermillion Parish projects, including funding for shoreline protection and ridge restoration projects at Cheniere au Tigre as well as an increment of the North Vermilion Bay Shoreline Protection Project.

The mandate of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority is to develop, implement, and enforce a comprehensive coastal protection and restoration master plan. As per its website, the CPRA’s 2023 Coastal Master Plan “will build upon previous master plan efforts and strive to ensure that the collective effects of project investments reduce storm surge-based flood risk to communities, provide habitats to support an array of commercial and recreational activities, and support infrastructure critical to the working coast. This will be achieved by harnessing natural processes, focusing protection on key assets, and adapting to changing coastal conditions.”

As revealed by CPRA Chairman Chip Kline, the 2023 Annual Plan is the largest in CPRA history. Chairman Kline stated, “this is a pivotal moment for the coastal program. Our 2023 Annual Plan is the largest in CPRA history, with over a billion dollars allocated for construction and major investments in hurricane protection, sediment diversions, and 23 dredging projects across our coast. We are excited to see the prioritization of vital coastal restoration and protection projects in this year’s surplus funding.”

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ULL Scientists Research Environmental Impacts of Hurricanes

A partnership of two researchers at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette is working within an international team of scientists to study the ecological impacts of previous hurricanes to inform how coastal ecosystems may best prepare for and respond to future storms, according to a news release from the University.

The international research team of scientists has recently published their study, “A General Pattern of Trade-Offs Between Ecosystem Resistance and Resilience to Tropical Cyclones,” in Science Advances, an academic journal that is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The researchers’ findings in the study have reportedly provided insight into how our coastal ecosystems might respond to future storms, to which as anyone in the Gulf Coast region can attest, are always around the corner.

The study was co-authored by UL Lafayette’s Dr. Beth Stauffer, an associate professor of Biology, and Dr. Kelly Robinson, an assistant professor of Biology. Dr. Christopher Patrick of William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science led the research team for the study, whose whole team was made up of 23 scientists from 11 states, Taiwan, and Puerto Rico. The team’s study is a part of the National Science Foundation’s Hurricane Ecosystem Response Synthesis (HERS), and Dr. Stauffer is a co-principal investigator for the research coordination network.

This collaborative research coordination network aims to bring together research on how an ecosystem’s long-term or more recent environmental history might influence its response to subsequent storms. In addition to this, the network will also collaborate on researching how species traits such as reproductive potential, dispersal mode and distance, and physiological tolerance might explain certain patterns of resistance and resilience.

In their research, the team used both pre-storm monitoring surveys and post-storm monitoring surveys to examine the resilience and resistance of coastal ecosystems across 26 different storms. The 26 total storms used for the research team’s data were selected among those that had made landfall in the Northern Hemisphere of Earth between the years 1985 and 2018. The researchers set out to study the effects of such a wide array of storms in order to maximize the scope of their data.

When speaking on the widening of the research’s scope in the study, UL Lafayette’s Dr. Beth Stauffer said, “most hurricane-related research is done on a single-storm, single-system basis. So studies like this one are especially powerful in bringing together the results from that diverse research and finding more general rules for how ecosystems respond to hurricanes.”

In working on their study, researchers were able to document post-storm changes related to the distribution and abundance of living things such as oysters, fishes, mangrove plants, and microbes. Outside of these living things, researchers also documented the observed changes made to various ecosystems’ biochemistry such as salinity levels, nitrogen levels, and hydrography such as depth and shoreline position.

Additionally, the researchers were able to analyze, document, and gauge storm characteristics and impacts based on critical factors like maximum wind speed and rainfall rate. They were also able to consider four types of ecosystems in total: freshwater, saltwater, terrestrial, and wetland ecosystems.

In speaking on the benefits of analyzing multiple ecosystems, ULL’s Dr. Kelly Robinson said, “cross-ecosystem analyses help us understand the resilience and vulnerability of animals and plants that ultimately support recreational and commercial activities along our coasts. This study provides an important reference point against which we can measure the impacts on coastal ecosystems from future hurricanes, which are predicted to strengthen as oceans warm due to climate change.”

When it comes to understanding hurricanes in an effort to not only anticipate their arrival but to prepare on how to respond to them after they pass, the regional expertise of two researchers from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette cannot be underestimated nor undervalued.

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Diabetic Friendly Rice to be Sold on Rouses Shelves

After just two years of setting its goal to partner with Rouses Markets, Parish Rice has recently inked a deal to stock all 65 supermarket locations with its diabetic friendly rice, according to this article from The Advocate.

Parish Rice is a product from second-generation rice farmer Michael Frugé that he grew from a variety of high-protein, low glycemic index-scored rice that’s been developed through the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center. Though the diabetic friendly rice has made its way from fields in Eunice, Louisiana to marginal popularity in just under two years, this recent partnership between Parish Rice and Rouses Markets has been a goal since the brand’s launch. Frugé told The Advocate that he has always been quite passionate about agricultural quality and celebrating local agriculture, feeling that his values aligned with the Louisiana-grown supermarket chain.

CEO and third-generation company leader Donny Rouse said of the partnership in a statement, “this is a fantastic addition to our Eat Right with Rouses program, which makes choosing healthy easier, by identifying grocery items that have lower sodium, lower saturated fat, healthier fats, more fiber, and less sugar. Our customers who are watching their carb intake are always looking for more options, and I love that it is local.”

Parish Rice was started in 2019, and until now it’s popularity has been rising at an unexpectedly steady pace. Eunice-based farmer Michael Frugé reported that 45% of his business’s gross online sales and approximately 80% of its total grocery store sales were conducted during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Soon afterward, the demand for his diabetic friendly rice began to grow quickly and to a certain extent, unexpectedly. Michael Frugé attributes the rapid success of his brand to word-of-mouth and a particular LSU AgCenter feature that began to circulate on social media.

In speaking on the partnership with Rouses Markets, Frugé said, “this is everything I’ve ever wanted. I love knowing that you go into a grocery store and see rice on the shelf and know that we had something to do with that. Now, I can go into a grocery store and know that is my rice, know that people are going to sit down at night or during the day, and eat my rice and have the opportunity to know where it came from.”

Frugé attributes the passion behind the growing and marketing of Parish Rice to an interest in rice farming and the rice industry that has been fascinating him since he was a boy when he learned about the rice trade from his father. After college, Frugé worked for a seed company that had a focus on the rice industry before he eventually eased back into farming full-time.

During his time in the seed industry, Frugé said that had gotten the opportunity to travel internationally, and by visiting countries like Japan and Uruguay, he gained valuable perspective and insight into how different rice-growing regions of the globe produced varieties for a surgically-targeted clientele. It was in this realization and study that Frugé saw opportunities for growth in the United States rice industry, particularly in Louisiana’s growing industry.

Frugé admits that he didn’t have a clear plan on how to distinguish his vision from other growers until he partnered with fellow rice grower and friend, Blake Gerard. It was then that Frugé had become interested in a particular varietyfrom the LSU AgCenter that Gerard had begun working with, and soon a deal was struck between the Eunice and South Illinois farmers to begin growing that rice in Louisiana in 2019.

Now that Parish Rice has a partnership with Rouses Markets, Frugé looks to his other goals for his brand’s reach, such as expanding his partnership with LSU or serving his rice in K-12 schools. In speaking on the future, Frugé said, “where’s it going to go? I don’t know,” he said. “So much has happened over the past three weeks, but I’ve got some more goals in mind. There are some other things I want to go after. I don’t know where the top is but I’m going to keep pushing.”

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King Cake Returns in 2022

With the christening of a new year comes a new Mardi Gras season, and while the state of the 2022 Carnival season is facing uncertainty amidst COVID-19 surges, Louisiana’s passion for the king cake is as strong as ever according to this profile.

Last year when many Mardi Gras parades, balls, and parties had been canceled or significantly limited due to the pandemic, Louisiana citizens proved that the spirit of the season wasn’t going to disappear along with the celebratory events. This was seen in the steady king cake sales seen by bakeries during the 2021 Carnival season; in fact, some bakeries even saw an increase in profits in the year despite many traditional festivities being canceled.

So it stands to reason that as the calendar has transitioned into 2022, the interest in king cakes will not have been subsidized in the least, even as the prospects for the 2022 parade season are masked in uncertainty. With king cakes becoming available during the first week of January on Twelfth Night (January 5th), the start of Mardi Gras season is officially underway, and this year’s Carnival will be nearly two weeks longer than last year’s. The 2022 Mardi Gras season is held between Twelfth Night and Mardi Gras Day, which lands on March 1st, giving the public over seven weeks or 55 days of delicious king cakes to enjoy.

Many Louisiana bakeries are seeing the lengthier season as an opportunity to be more competitive in the name of the Carnival spirit and thus more inventive with their king cakes. This inventiveness is coming in the form of new flavors, textures, and partnerships. In a traditional year, New Orleans bakeries can showcase a competitive spirit due to the limited window of king cake availability despite the ever-growing public demand, but this year is shaping up to showcase a new cooperative spirit as various collaborations have already begun.

One such collaboration is the King Cake Hub which stands as a centralized location that houses several king cakes from various restaurants and bakeries in one spot. At the King Cake Hub, one can survey a variety of flavors, textures, and confections all in a single location, allowing you to truly compare different bakers’ approaches to the opulent dessert. Originally created in 2019 by Will Samuels, who was a notable community leader in New Orleans known for his previous forays into the Crescent City food and music world.

This year, the King Cake Hub has returned to New Orleans through the help of Samuel’s wife, Jennifer, who has brought back the celebrated and innovative king cake epicenter in accordance with her husband’s wishes. Will Samuels passed away from cancer at the age of 52 this past September, but his dream lives on in 2022 in two locations: the Zony Mash Beer Project on Thalia Street and The Historic New Orleans Collection in the French Quarter, which is accessible through the museum and cultural center’s gift shop on Royal Street.

In a similar spirit of Mardi Gras resilience, Steve Himelfarb, the founder of the Marigny Bakery and Restaurantpartnered with his neighbors at the NOCCA (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts) to bring back his legendary king cake to benefit a local high school’s culinary program. Himelfarb’s bakery had closed in 2020, but that didn’t stop him from returning in 2022 at the King Cake Hub and offering king cake preorders online as well.

Speaking of online sales, one of the areas of king cake commerce that saw tremendous growth in 2021 was the shipping of king cakes around the country. Because king cakes travel well and serve as a great way to share the holiday spirit with loved ones, 2022 is projected to similarly be a successful year in terms of king cakes sales and shipping. Now’s the time to conduct your research and support your favorite small bakery with a king cake shipment, allowing you to start the Mardi Gras season in spectacular style.

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Louisiana State Parks Rebuild Following Hurricane Ida

In their continuing coverage of the commercial, regional, and environmental aftermath left in the wake of 2021’s Hurricane Ida, this recent article from The Advocate outlines that because some of Louisiana’s state parks had received monumental damages from the Fall 2021 storm, they are being altered in their rebuilding.

One such state park is Tickfaw State Park, which is located in an isolated pocket of Livingston Parish and encompasses approximately 1,200 acres (most of which are undeveloped). It was reported that prior to August 29th, when Hurricane Ida made its historic landfall in Port Fourchon, Tickfaw State Park was so heavily set in an overarching shadow as a result of a tree canopy, that the sky was very rarely seen. Then the eyewall of Hurricane Idaknocked down an estimated 80% of the trees and buried them mostly in mud so that the 30-foot arm of a rescue excavator couldn’t reach them from the roads running through the swamp-filled state park.

Unfortunately, the damage observed at Tickfaw State Park is too similar to other parks in the state, which has caused the deputy assistant secretary at the Louisiana Office of State Parks, Clifford Melius, to wonder about both the longevity of these parks and the short-term solutions that may be possible. Melius commented saying, “This is going to be a major change to the ecosystem,” and he also wondered “do we repair the boardwalks when there’s no swamp to walk over?”

For decades, the Louisiana State Park system has been very regenerative, despite the annual state parks budget being regularly lowered in favor of Higher Education and Healthcare budgets receiving the attention whenever the state government faced annual deficits. According to the statistics acquired by The Advocate, “between the fiscal year 2008 and the fiscal year 2017, Louisiana reduced annual state general fund contributions by 34% from $29.7 million to $19.7 million.”

Despite this significant decrease in funding, recent years have shown that the Louisiana State Parks system has only grown in popularity. In fact, Louisiana’s 21 State Parks ended the 2021 Fiscal Year on June 30 with 1.5 million visitors, which is the highest number of recorded visitors in a Fiscal year- in recent memory. Additionally, 11 of the total 21 parks made a profit, which is quite the achievement when compared to the system’s owing of $1.5 million on June 30.

After Hurricane Ida, seven State Parks had to close because of severe damages they received, and thorough assessments are still being conducted by park officials, who estimate approximately $4 million in damages. This figure is determined to be roughly one-third of the parks departments’ funds dedicated to repairing and improving facilities.

Melius stated that he would like to see the parks reopened as quickly as possible, which might mean that he and his office will be “short-circuiting the long ponderous path of paperwork and congressional approvals that delays recovery for months.”

For instance, the state park in Fontainebleau, which is located near Mandeville, has sustained damages to their air conditioning facility, which would normally result in a bidding process to hire contractors. Instead, Melius took action and sent in his own staff to replace the air conditioning unit and reopen the park in just two-day at a cost of just $2,500 rather than the $10,000 cost and several weeks of delay that an “out of house team” would have called for.

Melius had said, “in-house saved us money and we didn’t have to wait on contractors to come in and do it,” because otherwise “during all that time I have to keep the park closed because I can’t air condition the buildings.” This improvement to how we assess and process the damages occurring in our state parks is just one way in which theLouisiana State Parks Department is reinvigorating its park system in the rebuilding stage.

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