Within the past year, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) has secured $6 million from BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill funds to implement a well-crafted and widely supported recreational use and management plan for Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge, an approximately 1,100 acre tract of natural beach, dune and wetland area near Grand Isle, Louisiana. LDWF has also secured a large strip of property on the interior of the refuge: a grassy wetland that holds some remnant clay fragments from an old airstrip, out of use for more than 25 years now.
More recently, the department issued a press release announcing the signing of an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with the Grand Isle Independent Levee District (GIILD) to lease the former airstrip property, free of charge, for the development of the “Grand Isle Airport at Elmer’s Island”—a surprising turn of events to many. The press announcement was issued on August 16, 2018.
Elmer’s Island is a critically important bird habitat and key stopover for millions of migratory birds that cross the Gulf of Mexico each year. An airport and air traffic in close proximity to the nearly 200 bird species that use Elmer’s Island, including the threatened Piping Plover and Red Knot listed on the Endangered Species Act, present many harmful and unsafe scenarios for both wildlife and people.
In addition to Elmer’s Island serving as a critical habitat for millions of birds and a recreational, fishing and bird watching stronghold for south Louisiana, it is also home to the Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority’s most expensive ecosystem restoration effort to date – the $216 million Caminada Headland restoration project.
We wholeheartedly disagree with the decision made by LDWF to lease this tract of land. There is truly no scenario in which a state-designated Wildlife Refuge and an airport can co-exist in the same footprint. Furthermore, we believe that some form of public vetting should have accompanied this agreement before a deal was made.
LDWF plays a critically important and successful role in preserving Louisiana’s wildlife that they exhibited in many ways—such as endangered species management, non-game and game management research, habitat management, wildlife and fisheries enforcement, and public education. However, in this case, we disagree with their action to sign an IGA with GIILD, and as such, we strongly urge LDWF to rescind the agreement to develop an airport on Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge and utilize this property for the purposes defined in the Refuge Management Plan.