Corps Eyeing Sugar Cane Fields For Mitigation Project

RACELAND, LA (AP) — Hundreds of acres of sugarcane field and swamp just outside of Raceland could be turned into wetlands to compensate for levees and drainage work to protect areas surrounding New Orleans from hurricanes.

         The Courier ‘s Jacob Batte reports the new mitigation proposal from the Army Corps of Engineers would construct 330 acres of swampland and another 130 acres of wetlands over existing sugarcane fields and swamps.

         "I'm unhappy to say the least," said Lafourche Administrator Archie Chaisson. "I thought we had moved past that whole issue and to see them propose is frustrating."

         Following hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the Army Corps of Engineers developed the West Bank and Vicinity 100-year Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System.

         Federal laws require the agency to replace any damaged wetlands with land elsewhere.

         Sugar-cane fields and swampland will be reflooded and turned into wetlands as part of what the Corps describes as "mitigation" work.

         A letter announcing public comment on the new proposal was issued Oct. 15, ending more than years' worth of silence from Corps on the controversial project. In the spring of 2014, they held a public hearing on work that would have affected approximately 60 Raceland homes. Residents came out in droves to decry the proposal and it even drew the ire of some of the state's congressional delegation.

         Officials say they've had few if any talks with the Corps since the hearing and, Chaisson said, the feeling was that they had moved on because of the public's overwhelming response against.

         "Apparently that didn't happen," Chaisson said.

         This proposal is a watered down version of that one and while it affects properties, none where people are living. It does, however, target sugarcane fields.

         "You're talking about a tax base loss to the sugar mills and the farmer who loses the property and the supplier who loses that chemical and fuel," Chaisson said. "It's going to have an affect us."

         The land is being targeted to offset the environmental damage caused by building and upgrading levees and floodwalls on the West Bank of New Orleans.

         But the proposal leaves open the possibility for the Corps to mitigate more land. "If the Hwy. 307 site is unable to produce sufficient credits to meet the entire swamp, the purchase of mitigation bank credits for the outstanding balance would occur," they wrote, meaning they could re-evaluate the Lake Bouef properties left off in the second proposal.

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