Southeastern begins $4.8 million, four-phase renovation of Turtle Cove
Contact: Christina Chapple
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(1) WELCOME REPAIRS – Four phases of repairs to Southeastern Louisiana University’s Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station is getting underway with $4.8 million in funding from FEMA.
(2) REPAIRS UNDERWAY – Robert Moreau, director of Southeastern Louisiana University’s Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station, indicates where erosion has eaten away land since the destruction of bulkheads. The construction of more than 830 feet of new bulkheads is now underway.
HAMMOND – Renovation and repair of Southeastern Louisiana University’s Turtle Cove Environmental Research Station is getting underway, three and a half years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita battered the century-old building on Pass Manchac, headquarters for university wetlands research and environmental education and outreach programs.
Turtle Cove Director Rob Moreau said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has committed to fund an estimated $4.8 million in four phases of renovation projects -- replacement of bulkheads and docks (approximately $3 million), replacement of boardwalks leading to research sites in the Manchac Swamp ($600,000), repair and elevation of the three-story main building ($800,000), and construction of a new elevated caretaker’s building ($400,000).
“This is great news, not just for Southeastern but also for our entire region,” said President John L. Crain. “It means the educational programs and vital wetlands research our scientists, graduate and undergraduate students are conducting in the marsh will take a major step forward after the setbacks suffered in the hurricanes of 2005.”
“This is just fantastic,” Moreau said. “We have been without all of this for so long.”
Leased to the university by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries since 1981, Turtle Cove has served as a research setting for Southeastern faculty and student scientists investigating wetlands ecology and restoration as well as a wide variety of other scientific and history-related projects. The facility, located at the tip of the 8,300-acre Manchac Wildlife Management Area in northwestern St. John the Baptist Parish, has also served as an outdoor classroom for educational outreach programs for area teachers and their pupils.
Moreau said he and Ken Howe, director of facility planning at Southeastern, have worked closely with the state architects and engineers to map out plans for Turtle Cove repairs and secure FEMA funding.
Those repairs are now getting underway with the bulkhead project awarded to Great Southern Dredging Inc. of Mandeville, which will install approximately 830 feet of state-of-the-art erosion-fighting bulkheads along the banks of Pass Manchac in front of Turtle Cove and its caretaker’s house. Moreau said the bulkheads should be completed in three to six months.
The new bulkheads are being built with long term stability and sea level rise in mind, Moreau said, and will be a foot higher than the 25-year-old wooden bulkheads they are replacing.
He said the university is currently seeking bids to replace more than a half mile of wooden boardwalks that lead to wetlands restoration-related research projects in the marsh behind Turtle Cove.
The new boardwalks will be six feet wide, twice the width of the old boardwalks, allowing researchers to transport themselves and their materials to experiments using four-wheelers or golf carts. The wider width boardwalks are actually more economical to build, Moreau said, since the contractors will be able to move equipment along the boardwalks as the construction progresses. “No motorized equipment is allowed on the marsh surface itself,” he explained. “Previously, boardwalks had to be built by hand by crews working on foot in the marsh.”
He estimated that the boardwalk construction will begin this spring and may be completed by late summer.
Bids will be let this spring and work is projected to begin this summer to raise the three-story cypress structure of Turtle Cove itself, built in 1908 as a hunting and fishing camp.
Howe said the building will be elevated three feet on massive helical screw pilings to level and stabilize its foundation. “Basically, they will be gutting and rebuilding the ground floor,” he said, which shifted and settled under the onslaught of the hurricanes’ five-foot flood surge.
Moreau said the work is projected to be completed by the end of the year.
Also in 2009, the flood-damaged Turtle Cove’s caretaker’s cottage will be demolished and replaced with a new structure elevated 16 feet. The building serves as the on-site headquarters for Hayden Reno, Turtle Cove’s resident station manager for the past two decades.
“We have really missed the security of his being down there,” Moreau said.
Since the 2005 hurricanes and last year’s Hurricane Gustav severely damaged the facility, the university has carried on its research and education initiatives from a $350,000 boathouse/office/classroom facility – the “Research Boat Shed and Educational Complex at Galva Canal” – completed just months before the storms struck southeast Louisiana. And a new 40-passenger pontoon boat obtained with FEMA funds in 2007 has also served as an invaluable “floating laboratory,” Moreau said.
“We never stopped providing research and education capabilities, but we did lose our overnight capabilities at Turtle Cove,” Moreau said.
The Galva canal facility includes a large classroom/computer lab and office space for Reno and for agents of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, which owns the land on which the building sits. Beneath the building are slips for the pontoon and Turtle Cove’s fleet of research boats and a cinderblock restroom/shower facility.
Moreau has applied for grant funding to build a 350-foot boardwalk in the nearby Galva marsh. “That would allow for a whole new dimension of research, education and outreach activities right there – with no boat travel needed,” he said.
With Turtle Cove accessible only by boat, “there were times when a school group would come down, and if it was storming or foggy, we couldn’t take them out,” Moreau said. “They would just have to sit on the bus while we talked to them about what they weren’t getting to see!”
Now, in good weather or bad, field trips begin at the canal-side complex, where groups view an informational PowerPoint on the environmental and cultural history of the Manchac Swamp and surrounding Lake Pontchartrain Basin. Weather permitting, “we still take them out in the pontoon, go to the Pass light house, do all the things we used to do – except stop at Turtle Cove,” Moreau said. “With Turtle Cove repaired, we will have two fantastic, complimentary sites, one accessible by land, and the other by boat.”