17 islands to protect Lake Pontchartrain marshes

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Associated Press

Posted on August 5, 2013 at 8:36 AM

METAIRIE, La. (AP) — The latest tool to protect and restore the marshes around Lake Pontchartrain is an island -- 17 of them, actually, tiny ones made of plastic and planted with grass. They'll be towed into the water at Bucktown, where the hope is that they will help attract fish, crabs, birds and other wildlife.

Jefferson Parish is paying $50,000 for the islands, using a grant from the University of New Orleans Research and Technology Foundation Inc. Each island measures 5 feet by 20 feet, weighs 200 pounds and is made of recycled plastic of the type used in soft-drink bottles.

The plastic will be buoyed with marine foam, planted with native wetland grasses and anchored to the lake-bed 60 to 100 feet from the marsh that now edges the Bucktown Marina. Floating out there, the islands are expected to blossom with plant life so thick that their plastic bases disappear beneath leaves. Grass roots could extend deep enough to provide a natural hold around anchor chains.

"It provides protection that looks natural," said Marnie Winters, Jefferson Parish's director of environmental control and development. "They really are neat."

Established as a fishing community more than 100 years ago, Bucktown is still famed for seafood restaurants such as Deanie's and R&O's. But after Hurricane Katrina, the Corps of Engineers chased off the fishing fleet that had docked along the 17th Street Canal. Last January, Jefferson Parish officials cut the ribbon on the new Bucktown Marina, the first step to bringing home the boats. With a new chain of islands, perhaps the fish will come home, too.

"It's a build-it-and-they-will-come kind of thing," said John Lopez, director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. "If you got that grass out there, the fish and crab will come."

Parish Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng hopes so. "I think there's this new energy coming out of Bucktown," she said. "This could be a pivotal time."

Over the past century, Lake Pontchartrain's shoreline has become armored with levees and rocky wave-breaks. As a result, the natural shoreline has dwindled.

That's bad news for the lake's habitat. Fringe marshes raise oxygen levels, process pollutants and provide a habitat for wildlife.

To restore marsh is one of the master plan goals for the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. Lopez has been working in Bucktown since 2005, studying a 3½- acre marshland constructed with sediment dredged from the marina site. To buffer that marsh from erosion and to extend its span, Lopez looked to the concept of floating islands.

The islands are patented under the name BioHaven by the Shepherd, Mont., company Floating Island International. Its sole local manufacturer and distributor is Martin Ecosystems, which has installed similar islands in Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes to protect bayous and levees -- even at a sewage treatment plant in Hammond. To install the Lake Pontchartrain islands, Vice President of Sales Jason Martin said, will be a simple process. "Almost as simple as planting flower beds."

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Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com

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