Louisiana Cancels Plans to Build Controversial Airport in Wildlife Refuge


Migratory birds use Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge as a way station. Audubon Louisiana and other conservationist groups said building an airport there ran counter to the purpose of a wildlife refuge and would harm acritically important habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife.

(Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries)

  • The Elmer’s Island refuge is a way station for migratory birds.
  • Conservationists and wildlife scientists slammed the idea of putting an airport there.
  • The wildlife department secretary who withdrew the proposal says he thinks the news will be well received.

Louisiana wildlife officials have killed a controversial proposal to build an airport in the Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge. 

The state’s Wildlife and Fisheries Commission was about to have its first public hearing on the plan Thursday when Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Jack Montoucet announced the project was canceled, the Times-Picayune reported.

In August, Montoucet had signed an agreement for the Grand Isle Independent Levee District to operate and manage the airport, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries announced in a news release at the time.

The president of the levee district is Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle, who originally proposed the airport.

Montoucet signed the agreement without consulting wildlife commission officials, conservation groups or scientists who perform research at the 1,145-acre refuge, which is about 50 miles south of New Orleans.

The proposal included adding an aircraft hangar, an aircraft ramp and tie down, fuel tanks, a fueling area, and a terminal building with three gates. Elmer’s Island had an airstrip, but it hasn’t been operational for decades, according to the Advocate. The proposal would have created two new runways that extended further into the refuge than the old airstrip.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said at the time of the original announcement, “We expect that this airstrip will allow for enhanced public use and recreational activities on the Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge.” 

Conservationists and wildlife scientists immediately opposed the plan.

“This came out of nowhere,” Erik Johnson, Audubon Louisiana’s director of bird conservation, told the Times-Picayune. “Birds and airports just don’t mix. I don’t know of any refuge anywhere with an airport. The idea is pretty bizarre.” 

Many migratory birds use the refuge as a way station. 

Phil Stouffer, a conservation biologist at Louisiana State University told the Times-Picayune, “With all the birds there, this poses a risk to aviation. Elmer’s Island is not a huge place, and this (airport) is plunked down in the middle of it. You can’t do that and expect the marsh and the rest of the refuge to function the way it did before.”

Other critics said the airport was meant to provide an easier way for wealthy property owners and tourists to reach Grand Isle, a popular fishing destination next to Elmer’s Island.

In his announcement Thursday night, Montoucet told the commission, “The agreement will be canceled and terminated on mutual agreement. Judging from the volume of communications my office has received on this topic, I believe this news will be well received.”

Montoucet said it was not his intent to keep the agreement from the public. He said he thought any environmental issues would be addressed during the normal permitting process. 

It appeared that Montoucet left some room for the airport plan to return. He said he would give “folks greater opportunity (to comment) on this matter” if it came up again, according to the Times-Picayune.

2018-10-05 17:04:58

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