The Daily Review/Bill Decker
Morgan City Mayor-elect Lee Dragna, left, talks with current Mayor Frank "Boo" Grizzaffi before Tuesday's City Council meeting at the Morgan City Municipal Auditorium.
Morgan City Council supports Atchafalaya site for estuarine reserve
The Morgan City Council has thrown its support behind the push to create a National Estuarine Research Reserve somewhere in the Atchafalaya River area.
The reserves — called NERRs and pronounced “nears” — are joint state-federal operations devoted to research and education in coastal areas where fresh water and salt water come together.
A NERR would mean federal investment, a new tourism draw and something less tangible: “People coming to St. Mary Parish and falling in love with what we fell in love with,” said Margaret Metz Theriot of St. Mary Excel.
The council unanimously approved a resolution supporting a NERR in the Atchafalaya zone.
Theriot and Kelly Lind Boudreaux of Excel, the citizens group that is supporting a NERR for this region, made a presentation at Tuesday’s City Council meeting at Morgan City Municipal Auditorium.
NERRs dot the coast in every Gulf Coast state except Louisiana.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the states run the NERRs together. The funding split for operations is 70% federal and 30% state.
The backers are quick to say that the reserves don’t represent a federal takeover of land with new regulations and restrictions. NERRs are created by federal-street agreements and take a variety of forms, some combining private land and land already in the public domain.
NOAA provides guidance and a link to research developed at other NERR sites. The state handles the day-to-day operations, including staffing.
Existing state rules governing land use continue to apply.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has authorized a search for possible NERRs sites, and six estuarine zones, each much bigger than an individual reserve is likely to be, have been identified and are under study.
The lower Atchafalaya is one of those zones, along with southern Calcasieu, Barataria, Terrebonne, the Mississippi River Delta and the Pontchartrain area.
Louisiana Sea Grant, an LSU-based organization that focuses on coastal issues, has a lead role in the site selection process.
Its director, Dr. Robert Twilley, said in a Zoom meeting last week that the search group will be looking for unique estuarine features.
The Atchafalaya may have an advantage there. The Atchafalaya and Wax Lake deltas are creating new marsh while the rest of Louisiana’s coast is losing land. In December 2019, Twilley, who has studied deltas in South America and the Pacific, led a boat tour of the Wax Lake Delta with an emphasis on the way new coastal land is being formed.
On Tuesday, Boudreaux and Theriot said the possible advantages of a NERR include:
—The economic impact of investment in the site.
—Increased tourism opportunities.
—Upgrades for boating and docking facilities.
—More business for enterprises offering overnight stays in the area.
—Educational and interpretive opportunities for the general public and K-12 students.
“It’s a way to educate our kids about our love of nature and science together,” Theriot said.
Louisiana Sea Grant and NOAA are taking part in what they call a road show, offering information about NERRs and the site selection process to local communities. A Morgan City meeting with the site selection committee is planned for January.
Also Tuesday, council members thanked Mayor Frank “Boo” Grizzaffi for his service as he presided over the last regular meeting of his two terms.
Council members Mark Stephens, Tim Hymel, Steve Domangue, Ron Bias and Lou Tamporello will be returning to office in 2021. Tamporello and Bias won elections Nov. 3, and the others qualified without opposition.
Lee Dragna won the Dec. 5 runoff for mayor and will take office next month.