Coast Guard Wet Debris Removal In Final Stage

BILOXI, Miss. — Although he wasn’t just “cruising down the river” in his new airboat, a contract employee for the U.S. Coast Guard Wet Debris removal program made a rather revealing discovery last spring while exploring wetlands along the northern rim of St. Louis Bay in Harrison County.

Using helicopters and adding more airboats to search the area, U.S. Coast Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency ( FEMA ) officials corroborated the employee’s find.

Coast Guard and FEMA operations personnel verified that approximately 680 acres of wetlands has been hidden from aerial flyovers by dead marine grass, downed trees and other debris since Hurricane Katrina’s storm surge overwhelmed the area on Aug. 29, 2005.

Large pieces of debris that once had been a wall or roof of someone’s home, dotted the area. At least a dozen small boats were also tossed into the newly-found area. Even automobiles and large appliances were amid the debris.

To get into the debris-filled areas without creating further damage, teams are traveling on existing logging roads, using trucks similar to ones the logging industry employs. Air boats reach the marsh’s scattered debris, then ferry it back to staging areas. As much as possible, hand crews are collecting scattered debris to minimize damage to the marsh.

Mark Reyes, FEMA operations specialist reported that 183,284 cubic yards of wet debris have been removed from Hancock ( 87,510 ), Harrison and Jackson ( 53,470 ) counties, including 16,665 yards during the period Sept. 10-17.

“We are pleased to see the progress in the Gulf Coast recovery effort,” said Sid Melton, director of the FEMA-Mississippi Transitional Recovery Office. “Nearing the culmination of a clean-up the magnitude of the wet debris program is another step in the right direction.”

Gulf Coast wetlands cover some 72,000 acres of Mississippi’s 48,000-plus square miles, according to the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources ( MDMR ) which is working with several federal and state agencies to restore portions of damaged wetlands, marshes and the Mississippi Sound’s mean high tide line to four miles offshore.

FEMA obligated about $177 million to help clean the Mississippi’s coastal and inland waterways following Katrina. The Coast Guard Debris Inter-Agency Agreement oversees the Wet Debris Removal program, while private contractors bid to do the work.

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