In a letter written to United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross by Governor John Bel Edwards, the governor requested a federal fisheries disaster declaration for Louisiana from the U.S. Department of Commerce.
"The extreme duration of high Mississippi River levels since December 2018 has necessitated unprecedented efforts by the U.S. Corps of Engineers to mitigate the threat of levee failures in Louisiana. Such efforts have included the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway twice this year; first in late February and again in early May," the letter – that was dated June 13, 2019 – reads. "That structure continues to pass large volumes of river water into Lake Pontchartrain which subsequently flows east into Lake Borgne and Mississippi Sound. The extreme influx of freshwater has greatly reduced salinity levels in our coastal waters and disrupted estuarine productivity."
In the request, Edwards referenced information gathered by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), the organization that manages and protects Louisiana's natural resources.
An above average oyster mortality rate in oyster reefs in St. Bernard Parish; a statewide 30 percent decline in shrimp landings (brown and white shrimp combined) for the month of March and 61 percent for the month of April, when compared to the five-year average; and a 40 percent statewide drop in landings of speckled trout, when compared to the five-year-average, were some of the LDWF findings Edwards referenced in the letter.
"Such a declaration of a federal fisheries disaster for Louisiana may help in obtaining federal financial assistance for our fishers, processors, docks, and for the state to help rehabilitate the important fishery species upon which our seafood industry relies," Edwards wrote.
"A fishery disaster refers to a commercial fishery failure, a catastrophic regional fishery disaster, significant harm incurred, or a serious disruption affecting future produc
tion," according to a FAQ sheet provided by the Louisian Sea Grant "The cause of the disaster can vary and will impact the types of relief that may be available after a declaration is issued"
Julie Falgout-seafood industry liaison with the Louisiana Sea Grant - explained for the next step in the process NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] and the Department of Congress will go over the numbers and make a decision. They will determine which disaster declaration the flooded fisheries trigger (Magnuson-Stevens Act and/or the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act), which will determine what type of relief those who receive it will qualify for. Then, it goes to Congress for approval before the funds are granted to the state.
"It's going to be awhile before this funding goes through," said Falgout, although she said she's very confident that the state will receive the money. "I would be very surprised if they didn't."
Coastal Day 2019 welcomed the public to join in a unique, interactive expo showcasing Terrebonne Parish's flood risk reduction and coastal restoration projects.
On Wednesday, Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government hosted their second Coastal Day at the Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center. 1,300 individuals of all ages were welcomed with a showcase of the progression our parish has made with flood protection and coastal restoration projects.
The Civic Center's main room was filled with pieces of large machinery, tractors, dump trucks and more for the public to view. The entire length of the closed bleacher seating was filled with renderings and photographs of floodgates and levees for the public to view, with the understand that the public rarely gets to see the construction of these multi-million dollar projects that protect us from nature's rising waters.
Along the left-hand side of the civic center, the wall partition was partially closed, and colored tape marked off the TPCG Redundant levee compared to the Morganza to the Gulf levee. As you walked next to the wall, it left you with a sense of wonder as you realized the massive structure's size and what it takes to protect the area we call home.
Also on hand to showcase their works and answer questions were various agencies and coastal groups such as Restore or Retreat and Morganza Action Committee. At the Restore or Retreat booth, visitors were able to utilize virtual reality goggles to take a 360-degree tour of our coast and view some
of the efforts coastal scientists are making when it comes to restoration along our coast.
Guests of Coastal Day were also treated to a press conference where Shell Oil Company announced the donation of 4,139 acres of wetlands to Terrebonne Parish. This massive land donation will enable Terrebonne parish to make needed improvements to its flood risk reduction and community resiliency system.
The property, located in northern Terrebonne Parish north and south of US Highway 90 and between La. highways 24 and 311, is adjacent to 200 acres already owned by TPCG and will enable the redirection of stormwater from the most highly developed residential, retail and industrial corridor in the Parish.
When fully developed as a piece of natural resiliency infrastructure, the property will have the potential to store almost 1.8 billion gallons of stormwater produced by the areas surrounding Ellendale, Bayou Cane, Gray, Schriever, Martin Luther King Boulevard and Bayou Terrebonne in the Houma area and then release it slowly into the adjacent swamp and waterways over several days after storm events. This slower release not only reduces flood risk for homes and businesses in the Houma area, but also improves water quality in the adjacent wetlands by filtering stormwater naturally before releasing it back out in to the environment.
"We want to thank Shell for this donation of 4,139 acres to act as an important stormwater retention area that will greatly assist us in our present and future works to reduce flood risks to a great many of our residents and businesses," said Terrebonne Parish President Gordon Dove. "We greatly appreciate Shell's generous donation and desire to work with us to help solve a major drainage challenge for the citizens of Terrebonne Parish and we are thankful for many years of partnerships with Shell and many more to come."
Rick Tallant, VP of Production for the Gulf of Mexico with Shell said the donation showed the company's investment in the area.
"This property donation is just the latest example of Shell's commitment to the community and coast," Tallant said. "Having over 4,000 active employees plus another 4,000+ retirees who call Louisiana home, it is important that we do things that support keeping our community and coast a vibrant and sustainable home for our people and our business and this property donation is a great way for us to make a significant contribution to resiliency and sustainability."
Gov. John Bel Edwards was also on hand and made remarks about the determination of Terrebonne parish and our efforts to protect and restore our coastline.
"...Not only do you have coastal day here in Terrebonne Parish, people show up," shares Gov. Edwards. "I really am amazed at the number of people who came out tonight. That makes a tremendous difference. I want to thank all the businesses, civic organizations and government officials who made this possible. And more importantly, I want to thank each and every one of you for your support of coastal protection and restoration."
"We have a strong appreciation for our natural environment with a recreational fishing and hunting perspective, but we also recognize how important our commercial fisheries, navigation, the seafood industry and tourism are to our state and we are deeply connected to the energy resources located offshore," the Governor continued. "However, what has set us apart is that we've also found the way to deal with the impacts of our changing coast in a way that maximizes science based decision making and minimize as politics."
The Governor shared that since 2007, 111 projects have been completed across all 20 coastal parishes. He commended our local delegation for the progress we are making, stating that we more than anyone know and understand coastal protection and restoration. He also offered accolades on our parish's continued championing of projects not just here in Terrebonne but in neighboring Lafourche parish as well.
The press conference was rounded out with a presentation for Tony Alford, Terrebonne Parish Levee and Conservation District board president. Alford has served in this capacity for 15 years. Gov. Edwards read a proclamation recognizing Alford's service and Parish President Dove presented Alford with the key to the city.
Coastal Day concluded with two panel discussions and questions from the public on any matters dealing with the coast.
Members of the Terrebonne Parish NAACP gave big this year.
But so did three restaurants, a doctor and an actor.
It was a big night Saturday at the 37th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet. Local NAACP Chapter President Jerome Boykin Sr. said over 1,000 tickets were sold.
The Terrebonne Parish NAACP Chapter awarded $31,000 to 31 Terrebonne Parish High School students, ($1,000 each) who won the organization's annual scholarship.
Boykin said 11 Platinum Sponsors donated $5,000 or more to the organization, and 51 Corporate Sponsors donated between $1,000 and $4,000.
Three of the Corporate Sponsors presented big checks: Texas Roadhouse, $25,000; Mike Fesi founder and chairman of Pipeline Construction and Maintenance, $10,000; and Walk-On's, $5,000.
But this year's showstoppers were Dr. Patrick Walker of Houma, winner of the 2019 President's Award, and Actor/Rapper Romeo Miller, guest speaker for the night, who each announced they would sponsor and adopt one of the 31 scholarship winners, and pay for their entire collection tuition over the four years they remained in school.
Walker actually made the first announcement, calling to adopt the students as a challenge.
"What I am proposing tonight is for one of the corporate companies to sponsor one student, and they provide the full four year tuition scholarship for that student," he said. "Furthermore, I am going to lead by example. The Scripture says
that it is better to give than it is to receive. So I will be the first sponsor of one of the 2019 college recipients and I will provide the full four-year tuition scholarship. I will also act as mentor for that student and I will provide as much information as I ran during their four years in college."
Miller got to the podium and accepted the doctor's challenge.
"My next movie check. I'm going to donate that to one of the college students for their tuition," Miller said, To all of the students, this is just the beginning of your lives. Do the right thing, arid you will get a pat an the back for it. Each of you can change your corner of the world."
Boykin called Walker and Miller, heart-minded individuals.
"This is a win-win situation when you have people who participate on your program and see the need for creating scholarships for kids who go to college." Boykin said.
The NAACP president said Monday, both Miller and Walker asked that the NAACP form a committee within the organization to decide how each student would be chosen, although on Saturday. Walker said he would be interested in a student majoring in the medical field, while Miller said he would be interested in sponsoring someone in business, or film.
Terrebonne Parish Council Chairman Arlanda Williams presented a community service award to Boykin. far the work he has done with the NAACP, over the past 22 years. (Williams also presented the award on behalf of Councilman John Navy, who was not present.)
"Don't stop your work, because at the end of the day, we're both going to say. may the work I've dome speak for me," Williams said.
The 2019 Scholarship winners are listed, along with their high school and intended college:
Trail ace Alexander. Ellender High School. University of Louisiana. Lafayette; Joshua Barker. Vandebilt Catholic High School, LSU; Anastasia Billiot. H.L. Bourgeois, Southern University, Michel Claudet Scholarship: Johneika Bruce, H. L. Bourgeois. Southern University, LPEA Scholarship; Reaonna Cage, H. L. Bourgeois, University of New Orleans; Areana Celestin. Terrebonne High School, Xavier University. New Orleans; Madeline Cenac Vandebilt Catholic High School LSU; Marianna Charles, H.L. Bourgeois. Delgado Community College. Alex Detiveaux, H.L. Bourgeois. University of Louisiana. Lafayette; Maximillian Doyle, Vandebilt Catholic High School LSU; Jazmine Eadl. Vandebilt Catholic High School, Xavier University, Rouses' Scholarship; Alaysha Fleming, H.L Bourgeois, LSU; Chloe Fleming, South Terrebonne High School, Southern University. Tylian Francois, El lender High School, Fletcher Community College; Sadie Ganier, Vandebilt Catholic High School Nicholls State University; Cheisea Gibson, Terrebonne High School. Southern University, Michel Claudet Scholarship; Tristen Gorrell. Terrebonne High School, Southern University; Car lie Hay, Vandebilt Catholic High School Sanford University. LPFA Scholar shin; Taylor Jackson, H.L. Bourgeois, Southern University. LPFA Scholarship; Lindzey Joseph, Ellender High School Xavier University, Rouses' Scholarship; Torey Joseph, Ellender High School Nicholls State University; Tyrese Joseph, Ellender High School Nicholls State University. Tyrone Joseph. Ellender. Nicholls State University; James Matherne. South Terrebonne High School, LSU. LPFA Scholarship; Terris McKay, Ellender High School, Nicholls State University; Brennan Patterson, Vandebilt Catholic High School. Nicholls State University; Tyrez Smith. Terrebonne High School. Southern University. Lindsey Spence. Vandebilt Catholic High School LSU; Jazmine Spencer. H.L. Bourgeois, Nicholls State University. Jada Stewart, Houma Christian, Southern University; Bria Swan. H.L Bourgeois, Nicholls State University; and John Trapp, Vandebilt Catholic High School. LSU.