Huge concrete traffic barriers have been pressed into service along the Lake Pontchartrain shoreline to help retard erosion in East Jefferson, where research shows more than 175 acres have been lost in the past 50 years.
Land loss is so severe in some spots, especially in Kenner, that the waterline is within 20 to 30 feet of hurricane protection levee toes and floodwalls, said Executive Director Fran Campbell of the East Jefferson Levee District.
Hundreds of the 3-ton highway barriers, each about 15 feet long and almost three tall, were put in place recently to slow land loss and to stabilize a new breakwater that will be built with some $10 million worth of rock, Campbell said. The rock will replace the breakwater that Hurricane Katrina destroyed on Aug. 29, 2005, just after the Levee District finished building it.
"I can't tell you how much protection we believe that rock provided our levees during the storm, and it's critical that we get it replaced," she said.
FEMA has agreed to pay for the rock.
Campbell anticipates that the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, now starting its second year managing two levee districts east of the Mississippi River, will advertise early this year for an engineer to design the new breakwater.
In the meantime, Campbell has secured more than 1,000 traffic barriers from the state Department of Transportation and Development for erosion control structures along two sections of the lakefront.
The old "Jersey barriers," so named because they originated in New Jersey, are being replaced on road jobs with newer versions, said Mike Stack, state highway department chief in New Orleans.
"These barriers don't meet the new standards, so we're phasing them out for traffic control on all our highway projects," Stack said. "We can still use them to block ramps and such, but we have enough for that. Using them (on the lakefront) seems to be a good thing to do."
Over the past several months, the barriers have been lined up along the two sections of the East Jefferson shoreline. In Kenner, the barriers stretch along Reach 1 between the St. Charles Parish line and Duncan Canal, where Levee District research shows a land loss of more than 630 acres just west of Williams Boulevard.
Barriers also were placed between Causeway Boulevard and the New Orleans line, where Campbell said they can help protect land restoration work done by Levee District personnel in the past several months.
The breakwater that Katrina's storm surge washed away was built using mostly broken concrete generated when an old airport runway was removed and rebuilt. Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport donated the riprap to the Levee District.
The new breakwater will be built with more than 100,000 tons of rock, and FEMA guidelines require that the material be limited to replacing rock lost to Katrina. That means most of it will be used along levee Reach 4, between Causeway Boulevard and the Suburban Canal, and Reach 1 in Kenner.
The remaining 8,000 tons of FEMA rock will be distributed along the other three reaches of East Jefferson levee.
Campbell said the Levee District is coordinating its efforts with the Army Corps of Engineers to ensure that rock construction doesn't interfere with efforts to raise the lakefront levees.
She also hopes that a robust breakwater along the entire 11-mile East Jefferson lakefront ultimately will be incorporated into a major wetlands building and land reclamation project.
"We're doing what we have to now to get some additional protection and address erosion, but whatever we do out there will be something that we can build on," Campbell said. "And we hope everyone will be sitting around the same table to make sure that happens."