Reefs of Rubble

Local motorists may be anticipating a faster commute while watching the rapid construction of the larger, new Interstate-10 bridge spans connecting New Orleans and Slidell. Now, fishing enthusiasts have their own reason to be pleased with the progress of the massive roadway project.

That’s because a new plan advocated by the Coastal Conservation Association of Louisiana would convert rubble from the old twin spans into artificial reefs in Lake Pontchartrain designed to attract and nourish more fish in the area. 

“We’ve had the idea of using bridge and road material to build reefs for a long time and with all the road and bridge construction going on it seems like a golden opportunity,” says John Walther, a volunteer coordinator for the CCA’s artificial reef and reef restoration programs.

In the past, such reef-building projects have had to rely on small pieces of limestone imported from Kentucky to meet a state requirement that the material not pose a hazard to shrimpers’ trawling nets. Shipping that material is an expensive proposition, Walther says, but since shrimp trawling is prohibited in the area the CCA is targeting for these new reefs, the door is open to use the much cheaper, locally abundant resource of highway rubble.

“We really hope this is a stepping stone for more work like this,” he says.
The I-10 twin spans were severely damaged by the storm surge from Hurricane Katrina. They were repaired in record time and are now being replaced with stronger, higher interstate spans that have been called the most expensive roadway project in state history. The CCA’s plan is to use 2,000 linear feet of broken-up concrete roadway from the project to build two reefs. Each would be an acre in size and they would be located midway between I-10 and the U.S. 11 bridge, which connects Irish Bayou in eastern New Orleans to Eden Isles, south of Slidell.

Like naturally occurring reefs, these submerged piles of rubble would essentially become nurseries for the plants and small animals that form the first links of the marine food chain, eventually attracting the redfish, trout and other game fish that anglers covet.

The benefits of such reefs are familiar to offshore fishermen who have experienced the marine bounty around the supports of decommissioned oil rigs in open Gulf waters. Walther says this new project, and others like it in the future, will bring those benefits within reach to more people.