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Logjam on Louisiana-Mississippi border river to be cleared

August 25, 2018
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This June 6, 2018, photo provided by state Rep. Malinda B. White shows a logjam on the Pearl River, south of Bogalusa, La. The government will soon begin clearing a logjam that keeps threatened fish from swimming up the Pearl River and has also gathered debris including refrigerators, televisions, boats and even a houseboat. (Malinda B. White via AP)

The government will soon begin clearing a logjam that keeps threatened fish from swimming up the Pearl River and has also gathered debris including refrigerators, televisions, tires, mattresses, boats, and even a houseboat.

Clearing the jam will also reduce riverbank erosion that threatens to fill in deep-river habitat where threatened Gulf sturgeon can stay cool during the summer, Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Jack Montoucet said.

It’s not just sturgeon that can’t get through — Gary Parker of Bogalusa said he’s seen dead fish that apparently got trapped between logs. He said they’re usually larger fish, like buffalo fish, which can reach up to 3 or 4 feet (1 to 1.25 meters), and skinny gar, which can grow even longer.

“They get in it to where they get wedged, and can’t turn around. There’s enough current there that it really pushes hard against them,” Parker said.

The logjam is a few miles south of Bogalusa and about 40 miles north of New Orleans, on the Mississippi side of the river that marks the eastern boundary between the two states.

It has trapped a lot of sand, said Glen Constant, head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s southeast region conservation office in Baton Rouge.

This complicates a job that at best might be compared to a giant, dangerous game of pick-up-sticks — pulling out one log or piece of debris at a time without disturbing the rest. If a big chunk broke lose, it could threaten boats or camps downriver.

“So it’s not simply like pixie sticks. It might be like pixie sticks stuck in the mud,” Constant said.

He said much of the debris may have been covered up over the years. “We’re ready to take care whatever material we uncover,” Constant said.

The cleanup is expected to take from Tuesday through September. Constant hopes to have a path for heavy equipment laid out through the nearby Bogue Chitto National Wildlife Refuge before Labor Day, with the excavators moving in after Labor Day.

About 300 acres (121 hectares) at the northern tip of the 30,000-acre (12,000-hectare) refuge was closing Saturday for the work, said refuge manager Danny Breaux. He hopes to have it open before hunting season begins Oct. 1.

Breaux said the logjam has been building up since 2013, but the conditions leading up to it began in the late 1990s, when the river began cutting a new path at the head of a long oxbow bend. The new path was complete by the mid-2000s, and by 2013 the oxbow had filled up with sediment.

“When the water eats the dirt through a forest, the trees kind of fall in to the center,” he said. “Other trees hit those trees ... then it starts collecting white goods, refrigerators, buckets.”

This is low-water season, exposing some dry riverbed downstream of the logs and trash, he said.

Breaux said logs will be put on the high bank, and trash will be hauled out.

Project funding comes from the Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Fish Passage Program and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Louisiana is contributing people, time, and equipment, and Washington Parish will dispose of the trash, with other aid from legislators, environmental consultants and other sources, Constant said.

In addition, he noted, the Pearl Riverkeeper has scheduled a river-long cleanup in September.

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