Jan 23, 2013 5:30 PM by Nikki Buskey/ AP
THIBODAUX, La. (AP) - A donated dredge and excavator is building new wetlands outside the south Lafourche levee system near Grand Isle.
The self-propelled machine walked itself over the Golden Meadow levee to begin work. The machine can also clean and restore waterways and ponds, control vegetation, install pipelines and conduct other environmental work.
"It's like a Tonka truck on Christmas morning," said South Lafourche Levee Director Windell Curole.
The equipment, called the Amphibex 400, was donated for three weeks of restoration on the condition local officials paid the costs to mobilize and demobilize the equipment.
The donation is from manufacturer Normrock Industries in Terrebonne, Canada and Upperline Equipment of New Orleans. The South Lafourche Levee District, the North Lafourche Levee District and the Terrebonne Levee District partnered to secure $150,000 from the state's Department of Natural Resources for the project.
South Lafourche already had a permit ready to build marsh just off the south Lafourche levee system near Grand Isle Park and local restoration group Restore or Retreat connected the companies with the levee districts, said Terrebonne Levee Director Reggie Dupre.
Locals can see the machine working outside the levee system from Grand Isle Park.
Marsh in that area is broken but not completely gone, Curole said. He said it is easier to build land in broken marsh because the water is usually shallower, just a few inches deep instead of feet deep.
"It hasn't fallen apart yet," he said.
Curole said the plan is to build as much marsh as the machine can in three weeks. It started Jan. 16. The levee districts have an option of extending the donated dredge's time in south Lafourche at a cost of $60,000 per month if they like the machine.
Building marsh immediately outside the levee system also helps to protect the levee from erosion from waves and storms.
"There are some areas where we have a good amount of marsh left, and other places where we are losing it tremendously fast," Curole said. "We need to build it up where we can outside of the system."
The machine was donated as a demonstration project to show what this new type of equipment can do. Dupre said it provides a unique deal for levee districts in Terrebonne and Lafourche that must carefully pinch pennies to get as much protection and restoration work done for as little money as possible.
Dupre said this is a great opportunity because it typically costs $30,000 to $45,000 to build a single acre of marsh.
Since the state put up $150,000 to get the machine to south Lafourche, "anything more than 5 acres is lagniappe," he said. He added he thinks the machine will be able to build double that in three weeks.
With more companies interested in getting into the restoration business, Dupre said taking advantage of demonstration projects that aim to promote new methods of building land and protecting the coast provides a unique opportunity to get desperately needed work done at reduced cost.
The state should be flexible enough to allow these type of experiments by extending or issuing needed permits, he added.