Port project must preserve wetlands

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 13, 2009

By Vershal Hogan

The Natchez Democrat

VIDALIA — The plans for the Vidalia loading and unloading facility are hung up on wetland mitigation.

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The project — otherwise known as the Vidalia port — could get the needed permits to move forward once a wetland mitigation solution is produced, Concordia Parish Economic Director Heather Malone said at the Concordia Economic and Industrial Development District board meeting Monday.

Wetland mitigation plans require that any damage or change to a wetland area will be offset by the preservation of wetlands elsewhere.

The City of Vidalia is considering donating 15 acres of land for the wetland mitigation requirements, but it might ultimately be cheaper for the city to buy wetland credits to meet the mitigation requirements set by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Malone said.

“The city would probably do better keeping that property and developing it at a later time than giving it up for those plans,” she said.

Engineering firm Bryant Hammett and Associates has hired a firm that specializes in wetlands mitigation to come up with a solution, Malone said.

The CPEIDD has also gotten the deadline extended to use a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Authority for the port project, and Malone said a $1.5 million designation made by Sen. Mary Landrieu has made it through the first round of voting in the Senate.

The district will apply for capital outlay monies from the state to serve as match dollars for the federal funds, she said.

The CPEIDD board also discussed the recent visit by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the parish to look at drainage problems on Cocodrie Bayou.

One of the problems was a weir on Wild Cow Bayou, which Malone said was owned by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

“It has an operational gate, but the operational part of it doesn’t work,” she said.

The problem has been determining who has managed the weir in recent — and distant — years, CPEIDD Chairman Richard Young said.

“I would figure the department of the interior would have built it and handed it over to the state,” he said.

Malone said she was working with area legislators to determine who was in charge of the weir and arrange a meeting to find out what can be done about it.

Another issue was a low water crossing on Cocodrie Bayou, which a local farm originally built with a permit from the corps of engineers, Malone said.

“It seems over the years the elevation (of the crossing) has risen and is higher than the permit states,” she said.

The issue of silt bars in the bayou will have to be addressed through the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries because parts of the bayou fall under the scenic waters act, Malone said.

The corps also said it would conduct a flood control study on the bayou, and that the federal government would pay for the first $100,000, and after that the costs would be split with the local government 50-50, and Malone said she was waiting for cost estimates so area governments could apply for capital outlay funds to offset their portions of the study’s costs.

The CPEIDD is composed of the mayors of all of the incorporated municipalities in Concordia Parish, the police jury president and three at-large members.