NOAA 99-R116
Contact: Gordon Helm

Weeks Marine Inc. gains contract to improve island's ability to protect wetlands, public

A New Orleans marine dredging firm will soon create 240 acres of new wetlands on Louisiana's East Timbalier Barrier Island in order to extend the life of the deteriorating island and continue its protection of Timbalier Bay area wildlife, the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced today.

NOAA's Habitat Restoration Center and the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources recently awarded the $8.88 million contract to Weeks Marine Inc. of New Orleans, to start work in April on a two-phase project to improve the structure of the 400-acre island in LaFourche Parish, which is part of an island chain that fronts Terrebonne/Timbalier Bay. NOAA is a Breaux Act federal partner that works closely with state and local officials on Louisiana wetlands protection and restoration efforts.

East Timbalier Island plays an important role in protecting Timbalier Bay and several estuaries and surrounding wetlands, along with public and private property, from the destructive forces of storm surges, high waves and salt water intrusion. The island has been deteriorating due to a combination of landward migration, island narrowing, and land loss. Without this project, the island is expected to disappear as early as the year 2004.

"This project should halt the continued deterioration of East Timbalier Island and provide its valuable marine estuaries and wetlands the needed protection from the ocean elements that threaten area wildlife and residents. NOAA and our partners are
doing what we can to ensure the Louisiana coast and marine resources remain intact and as pristine as possible," said Terry D. Garcia, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and deputy NOAA administrator. "Loss of estuaries and wetlands reduces coastal fisheries habitat and the marine species such as shrimp, crab, redfish and seatrout, on which they depend."

All of Louisiana's barrier islands are facing similar deterioration caused by a number of factors, including global sea level rise, local subsidence, inadequate sediment supply and human disturbance.

"Louisiana's barrier islands are our first line of defense against hurricanes and strong storms, as well as natural buffers from wave energies for our coastal wetlands," Louisiana Department of Natural Resources Secretary Jack Caldwell said. "The barrier islands also serve as vitally important habitat for migratory and native birds, playing a vital role in the ecosystem of coastal Louisiana."

Phase 1 of the project will mine 809,000 cubic yards of sediment and place it in three embayments along the landward shoreline of East Timbalier Island, more than doubling its width. The project will create at least 86 acres of vegetated land, making it less vulnerable to hurricane and winter storm damage. The new addition will also provide protection for 264 acres of existing island. Phase 1 is expected to begin construction in April and be completed in the summer.

Phase 2 of the project will mine approximately 1.455 million cubic yards of sediment from bay areas near East Timbalier Island, which will be placed on the island at both dune and marsh elevations. This will create approximately 154 acres of new salt marsh and will help protect approximately 27 acres of existing marsh on the island. Phase 2 is expected to begin construction in June-July, 1999, and be completed in October.

"As our company specializes in marine dredging, we are sensitive to the needs of Louisiana's coastal environment," said Steve Chatry, assistant vice president of Weeks Marine Inc. "We look forward to making a contribution in restoring this barrier island."

Weeks Marine recently acquired the marine assets of T.L. James & Company, which was the largest dredging contractor in the Gulf Area. The marine dredging division of Weeks Marine will be responsible for the construction of the East Timbalier project.