Xerxes Wilson / The Houma Courier
HOUMA, La. — At the mouth of Port Fourchon's path to the Gulf of Mexico, workers hurriedly planted grass Thursday where waves crashed one year ago.
Holding new land against the endlessly gnawing Gulf is now the focus at the West Belle Pass Restoration Project near the Lafourche-Terrebonne border on the southeast edge of Timbalier Bay.
More than 3.5 million cubic yards of sand was dredged and transferred to the fragile headland to create about 120 acres of beach. That beach will now protect some 340 acres of marsh the project formed from open water less than a mile southwest of Port Fourchon.
“It's huge. This is our first defense from the Gulf and will protect the port,” said Chuck Perrodin, public information director for the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.
Over the years, miles of continuous beach have been reduced to sporadic beachheads along the coast. Researchers estimate some locations lose more than 100 feet of shoreline annually.
These beaches protect the marsh habitat from encroaching open water and areas to the north from the annual threat of storm surge.
Mel Landry, spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the beach was poorly defined and heavily eroded before the restoration. Behind the beach was mostly open water that was once wetlands.
Today, a little more than two miles of white sand separates the Gulf from cracking, drying mud that will soon sprout vegetation and be a healthy marsh.
“It is amazing to think that where we stand now would have been open water,” said Shane Fost, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority engineer, while standing on the beach.
The beach was created using about 2 million cubic yards of sediment from nine miles offshore
The marsh just behind the beach was created using another 1.4 million cubic yards dredged from about two miles out, said Phillip Parker, the project's manager for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Parker said the particular sediment used is critical as some types are better for withstanding erosive forces.
“The larger, heavier parts can take more of the wave action, so it has a tendency to stay where it is,” Parker said.
With the ground solidified, restorers must now bolster the land to ensure it survives decades of wind and water washing it back into the Gulf.
Grassy plants known as sea oats lined the beach's fence that is intended to down wind-blown sand to create a dune.
Over the next eight to 10 days, workers from Montegut's private Ecological Restoration Services will plant 62,000 plants to bolster the land, said nursery manager Aaron Pierce.
Fost said the grassy plants will help trap the sand as it is blown around.
For now, the primary focus is planting to bolster the beach. The project will be inspected regularly for the next two decades to see how it holds up against the relentless forces of nature, Landry said.
State officials will return next year to determine if further planting is needed to augment natural growth in the new land just north of the beach.
The project cost about $31.5 million and was paid for through a state and federal partnership.