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Signs of hope along Louisiana’s coast despite damaging 2020 hurricane season

(Charlie Riedel | AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 5:54 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Scooter Trosclair drives an ATV along what remains of an old levee built in 1991 at the southern end of the Rockefeller State Wildlife Refuge.

“It was probably over 3,000 feet from the Gulf,” recalled Trosclair, program manager at the refuge. “Now, it’s washed into the Gulf.”

The refuge, 30 miles south of Lake Charles, was donated to Louisiana by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his family 102 years ago. Their aim was to preserve this unique place, where grassy wetlands and ridges meld into a sliver of Louisiana beach.

“We were losing over 300 feet a year.”

The beach, which is under almost constant assault from wave action and storm consists of a shell hash, a course material with a consistency somewhere between sand and rock. Waves roll the shell hash onto the marsh, smothering the marsh grass and leaving a mudflat.

Trosclair explained the on-going process leads to the Gulf steadily devouring the marsh as it repositions the beach.

“Two weeks, three weeks from now when the next weather system comes, this (shell hash) will actually move,” Trosclair said.

The coastline was steadily retreating before the back-to-back Hurricanes Laura and Delta of 2020.

“80 percent of the staff here at Rockefeller have lost their homes for a third time,” Trosclair said.

However, the worst coastal damage was actually farther inland where waves pounded the Cheniere Plain. Parts of Cameron Parish look like a hurricane hit a few weeks ago instead of last summer.

“It’s tough on the people,” said Trosclair, the last member of his family to remain in Cameron Parish. “It’s tough on the residents, it’s a culture and a way of life that’s just being washed away.”

The facilities at Rockefeller were also heavily damaged, as the 12-foot surge blew out exterior walls in some of its structures. However, Trosclair believes damage to the refuge was mitigated by an ongoing shoreline protection project.

Over several miles of beachfront, contractors have extended a breakwater, consisting of limestone rocks atop a lighter, aggregate material. In areas where the rock has been installed, sediment has built up behind the breakwaters.

“Where we actually have the shoreline protection project installed, it’s actually developing land,” Trosclair said.

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