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Environmental Law Students Get Close-Up View of Swamp Restoration

October 31, 2017 6:05 AM

Students from Tulane’s Environmental Law Clinic got a first-hand look at the vast but struggling Maurepas Swamp last week, and the continuing efforts to restore the wetlands.

Bob Marshall, an environmental reporter and Pulitzer-Prize winner with the Times-Picayune, met students and spoke to them about Louisiana’s rapid coastal land loss. The students then traveled about 45 minutes to the Maurepas Swamp to see the degraded wetland forest that was once lush with healthy cypress and Tupelo trees.

Environmental attorney Beaux Jones, associate with the New Orleans firm Baldwin Haspel Burke & Mayer, and two naturalists led the students on a guided kayak tour on a bayou that meanders through the swamp. The students were able to witness the harmful impacts that levees, channeling, saltwater intrusion, subsidence, road-building, and logging have had on swamp—making the surrounding areas more vulnerable to storm surges and flooding. 

Even in its degraded state, however, the swamp was still a thing to behold with stands of cypress trees draped in Spanish moss, alligators sunning on fallen logs, American Bald Eagles soaring overhead, and wildflowers abundant throughout, said Corinne Van Dalen, a supervising attorney with the Environmental Law Clinic.

“It was great to get the students out to see and enjoy the kind of natural resources at issue in many of suits they handle as student attorneys at the Clinic,“ she said.

During the tour, the students also learned about a recently-funded Mississippi River diversion project that will carry freshwater and sediment to the Maurepas Swamp with the aim of restoring the area. Less than two months ago, Louisiana's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) announced that it had received a $14.2 million grant to fund this diversion project. The grant was awarded by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council from Clean Water Act penalties and is a key coastal restoration project for Louisiana. 

Jones was able to offer great perspective about the project, having represented the CPRA as an Assistant Attorney General for the Louisiana Department of Justice, where he served as environmental section chief. The students peppered Jones with questions about the diversion project while kayaking through the very area that will be receiving fresh water and sediment designed to restore and enhance the forested wetland, improve wildlife habitat, and provide storm surge protection.

Third-year law student Colin Casciato said he plans to stay in New Orleans and “one day return and see a healthy Maurepas Swamp.“