State cancels proposal to open airport in Louisiana refuge

October 04, 2018 - 9:34 pm
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GRAND ISLE, La. (AP) — Louisiana officials Thursday canceled a proposal to develop an airstrip in a wildlife refuge after mounting public pressure.

Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Jack Montoucet announced the cancellation just before the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission was to have its first public hearing on the proposal. Montoucet had signed an agreement with the airport's developer, the Grand Isle Independent Levee District, in August without consulting the commission, conservation groups or scientists who conduct research at the refuge on Elmer's Island.

"Judging from the volume of communications my office has received on this topic, I believe that this news will be well received by many of the folks here today and the people they represent," Montoucet said in his remarks to the commission.

Audubon Louisiana and other groups blasted the proposal, saying it ran counter to the purpose of a wildlife refuge and would harm critically important habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife, NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune reported.

Audubon Louisiana Director of Bird Conservation Erik Johnson said he doesn't know of any refuge with an airport and found the plan bizarre.

"Birds and airports just don't mix," Johnson has said.

An airport lease agreement proposing two runways, an air traffic control tower, a terminal and hangars on the property was approved last month by the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Part of the airport would have been built on an airstrip that predates the refuge and hasn't been used in decades. The plan would have had the runways extend across what is now marsh and shallow water.

Montoucet said it was clear that the public wanted "a greater opportunity for public discourse in this matter. For that reason, I'm glad that (Grand Isle) Mayor (David) Carmardelle was gracious enough and willing to agree to mutually cancel and terminate the current intergovernmental agreement. You have my word that if this proposal is ever considered in the future, it will be done through the Commission and would initially be limited to a feasibility study to allow for appropriate and public evaluation."

Carmardelle was at Thursday's meeting and supported Montoucet's decision to end the agreement. He and other officials said the proposed airport would have improved public access to the refuge and neighboring Grand Isle, a popular fishing destination linked to Elmer's Island by a small bridge. Camardelle said it could have also created jobs and more tourism opportunities.

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