by Jenna Orgeron

Whether acting as an obstacle or navigation tool, the waterways of Louisiana’s bayou region affect the way residents travel and give directions.

Daily commutes require a little more planning when bridges and boat traffic have to be figured in. Especially when a bridge is out, leaving travelers stranded.

Currently, the Sunshine Bridge, a large bridge near Donaldsonville that crosses over the Mississippi River and services traffic between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, was closed for almost two months because the damage it sustained from a barge collision on Friday, Oct. 12. The closure has affected businesses, residents, and commuters who use the bridge for daily transportation. The bridge opened one lane each way Saturday, Dec. 1.

According to Louisiana State Trooper Simon Besson, many residents in the towns surrounding the bridge, like Donaldsonville and Burnside, are being forced to either take the inconvenient 45-mile detour to get across the river or the Plaquemine Ferry, which has added extra hours because of the bridge closure.

“My 10-minute commute to work is now an hour of driving, plus dealing with traffic,” says Natalie Millet, a Donaldsonville resident who works at Louisiana Treated Lumber Inc.

Though at times the overwhelming presence of water makes travel more difficult, it also provides a source of directions to navigate around the bayou region. Some southern Louisianans, like Rick Cheramie, have developed unique terms to give directions based on the bayous, rivers, landmarks, and infrastructure in the surrounding area.

“We can’t tell someone ‘walk south for 12 blocks’; we don’t really have that here,” says Cheramie, a tugboat captain who tows large boats through the bayous of South Louisiana. “We have the bayous and rivers, so that’s what we use.”

According to Cheramie, an example of directions to the grocery store would be: “Go down the bayou for about 2 miles and cross the [bayou or river] at the first bridge you come to. Keep going down the [bayou or river] for about 7 more miles and the grocery store will be on the house-side of the road. Ya got that?”

Though traveling and navigating in this part of Louisiana can be unusual, the residents who have built close-knit communities and an entire culture surrounding these waterways choose to stay, because as Millet says,

“It’ll always be home.”

by Kathleen Rodrigue

A $200 million project to reintroduce the Mississippi River into Bayou Lafourche is underway to increase the bayou’s water flow, protecting the region’s drinking water supply, attracting more wildlife and combating saltwater intrusion, officials say.

“We can’t do any restoration projects well without more fresh water flowing into Bayou Lafourche,” says Windell Curole, general manager and executive secretary of the South Lafourche Levee District.

The Bayou Fresh Water District’s project includes dredging more than 29 miles of Bayou Lafourche to make it deeper; building a new $65 million water pump station at the mouth of Bayou Lafourche to pull more water from the Mississippi River; pacing a new water control structure in the bayou near Labadieville; modifying the water control structure in Lockport; and removing the weir, a water flow structure, in Thibodaux, says Ben Malbrough, executive director of the Bayou Fresh Water District.

Over $60 million of the $200 million comes from the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. The remaining funding comes from other state and federal partners.

Malbrough expects the entire project to be completed before the end of 2019.

The current project to open up the connection between the Mississippi River and Bayou Lafourche comes after more than a century of blocking the water to help with spring flooding, Malbrough says. The Mississippi river once flowed freely into Bayou Lafourche and was the main channel for commerce for this region, transporting goods to the Mississippi River and then to New Orleans. However, spring flooding was an issue. So to combat the flooding, the mouth of Bayou Lafourche was temporarily closed off from the Mississippi River in the early 1900s. And the temporary ended up becoming permanent, says Malbrough. So from 1902 until 1955, there was little to no fresh water flowing into the bayou from the Mississippi River.

As the area became more populated, the Bayou Fresh Water District was formed in 1952 to provide the water purification facilities along Bayou Lafourche with fresh water. Eventually a pump station was installed at the mouth of Bayou Lafourche in 1955 allowing water to flow into the bayou again. Malbrough says the pump station is currently pumping its maximum water flow of 500 cubic feet per second, or about 3,740 gallons per second. But that is not enough to fix the problems we are facing. So in 2006, a plan was submitted to the Coastal Wetlands Protection and Restoration organization, but the project was not selected as a priority project. Then in 2008, Hurricane Gustav struck the region and turned Bayou Lafourche septic for about 30 days. Malbrough says this experience was the “Aha moment” that something needed to be done. So from there on out, the Bayou Fresh Water District and other supporting groups have been working toward soliciting money from different federal and state organizations to fund the project.

“The problem has been getting worse and worse for years, so this is tremendous progress that took place and being done in a way that really minimizes the concerns of most people,” says Curole, with the South Lafourche Levee District.

Not only will the project help with the environment and water flow, but it will also encourage recreation.

“Everything that the Bayou Fresh Water District is doing will help recreation on the bayou,” says Ryan Perque, executive director of Friends of Bayou Lafourche, a nonprofit that promotes bayou activity and education.

And help with commerce, says Malbrough.

“Us having the ability to control the amount of water and the flow into Bayou Lafourche is critically important, not just for our residents, but for the industries in our region.”

by Kathleen Rodrigue

Louisiana’s coastal residents are no strangers to water, which naturally leads many into the marine industry for careers. Ronald Callais, retired president of Allied Shipyard, is no exception.

“I grew up with water all around me, so it has been involved in several aspects of my life. It’s in our blood,” Callais says.

He says his vast experience with boats growing up is what naturally led him to the profession. Callais has been involved in the boat business since he spent his summers shrimping as a teenager.

Callais says his father, Abdon Callais, was the first person to really expose him to the maritime industry. His father, after pushing barges for Schlumberger, started his own boat business called Abdon Callais Offshore in the early 1950s. Working for his father, Ronald was the support captain, which required him to do crew changes and repairs. Then in the late 1950s, Ronald and his older brother, Harold Callais, bought their father’s business.

Later on, the brothers sold the two boats and bought Lafourche Shipyard, previously known as Cajun Shipyard. Four years later, the pair bought Allied Shipyard from Ronald’s father-in-law. They then merged the two companies in 1987 and kept the name Allied Shipyard. During the following decade, the pair grew their company from just repairing boats to building them.

In between building the boat businesses, Ronald also ran his own accounting firm, co-owned Callais Cable Vision and graduated from Nicholls State University with a degree in accounting.

However, as time went on and the businesses grew, Ronald began noticing he wasn’t devoting enough time to his family. While his brother wanted to continue building and buying boats, Ronald was not interested in expanding. So, he and his brother dissolved their partnerships in 1995. Ronald kept Allied Shipyard, and Harold went on to operating boats serving the oil and gas markets with his company, Abdon Callais Offshore.

Gavin Callais, Ronald’s son and now president of Allied Shipyard, says he remembers going on boat rides to do crew changes in the middle of the night, visiting docks and bringing boats to the shipyard. From these experiences, he says he was able to learn the business and meet various people within the industry, which ultimately helps him in his job now. Gavin’s brother Bruce also works at Allied Shipyard as the Vice President, and his other brother Lee is the lawyer for the shipyard.

Tony Boudreaux, vice president of operations for Allied Shipyard for 10 years, says he enjoys working for the family business because he feels like he is a part of the decisions.

“When you work for a family-owned business, you sit around the table with the top guy, middle guy, and the bottom guy to get input and solve the problem,” he says. “That’s not how it works in a corporate structure.”
And Boudreaux says the Callais family shares his value in family, which allows him to spend more time with his wife and two daughters.

Ronald, though retired, still works at Allied Shipyard in an advising capacity while his sons run the business. He is also the current president of the South Lafourche Levee District where he has been on the board for 31 years, advising the building and maintaining levee systems.
Ronald says he loved being involved in the marine industry and was happy to pass the tradition along to his children.

“It has been a very enjoyable life working in the marine business,” says Ronald. “My kids are doing a great job running the company.”

by Kathleen Rodrigue

Three Louisiana companies are using their expertise from the oil and gas industry to contribute to the first commercial offshore wind farm in the United States, supplying a cleaner source of energy.

This project is successfully producing clean energy to power Block Island, which is about 13 miles off the coast of Rhode Island. Instead of diesel generators providing 5,000 homes with power, the island is being powered by renewable wind energy cutting residents’ electric bills by 50 percent, says Joe Orgeron, Falcon Global LLC’s special projects manager based out of Golden Meadow. Orgeron supplied Deepwater Wind, America’s leading offshore wind developer, with liftboats to help transport and install the wind turbines. This project, however, would have been near impossible without the help of Louisiana offshore industries.

“It’s our long history of engineering, building, and installing oil and gas structures that could lend to this new industry,” says Roy Francis, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs and Special Projects for Gulf Island Fabrication, Inc. based out of Houma. “Our experience with oil and gas helps with this new industry. We had the yard and capabilities to build it, where it doesn’t exist on the east coast.”

Keystone Engineering, based in Metairie, designed the five steel foundation structures that sit on the seafloor, while Gulf Island Fabrication built them, says Francis. He said the building process took place in Houma and took about eight months to complete. Afterward, the structures were transported 2,100 miles in 12 days to Rhode Island.
Francis said building the structure was not particularly difficult, because the company has built some of the largest structures in the ocean.

He believes this wind farm project opened the doors for them to become more involved in the new industry, thus creating more jobs for the Terrebonne and Lafourche regions.

“It’s been a great experience. We built it on time, on budget and safely. The customer was very happy with our work. It was a great relationship and it was exciting to be a part this new industry,” says Francis.

Gulf Island also built the lift barge Falcon Global used during the project. Named “The Robert,” the 335-foot boat was steered along the South Coasts and around Florida to get to the east coast.

Captain Farrel J. Charpentier, the captain of the boat’s expedition, said this was the longest journey he has had on a boat. Traveling about 2,000 miles, the trip took them 14 days and 14 nights, says Charpentier. He said he and his crew of 19 enjoyed the project because it was a much different landscape than the oil and gas industry.

Once there, the workers were tasked with a few different jobs. They first helped hammer the piles to secure the steel structures into the seafloor, says Charpentier. They also transported the wind turbine’s blades and one-third of it’s tower to the offshore site. Orgeron says each blade weighs 30 tons, the tower piece weighs 100 tons, and the structure holding the blades weighed 100 tons as well. The lift barge carried three blades at a time.

Their job also entailed sharing their expertise and knowledge about offshore with Rhode Island workers who were new to the industry. Orgeron says his men stepped in as their supervisors during shifts in order to ensure the job was done properly and safely.

Orgeron says he has been attending conferences and been involved in discussions about offshore wind farms since 2009, hoping to diversify the need for his vessels. He notes that though the process was sometimes discouraging, he is well pleased with the work he and his team were able to produce.

He explains that this 5-turbine wind farm is considered to be a demonstration project and has become the inspiration for more wind farms in the future. About 13 other wind farm projects like this are on the horizon for the east coast, Orgeron said.

“We definitely have the momentum on our side and being first in the market is awesome.”

by Kathleen Rodrigue

The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority implemented a $200 million, two-year restoration project to rebuild the Caminada Headland, one of the largest headlands to disappear from Louisiana’s coast due to coastal land loss.

“We’re just losing so much land now. Without coastal restoration projects, all locals would have to move,” said Mary-Suan Bourg, a Houma native who enjoys spending time at the Caminada Headland.

Completed in March 2018, the now 13-mile barrier island stretches from the mouth of Bayou Lafourche toward Grande Isle, protecting Port Fourchon and several species of migratory birds.

The Caminada beach stood proudly along Louisiana’s coast 50 years ago. Bourg says she remembers swimming, fishing, crabbing, riding in trucks along the sand dunes, and even camping in tents at night when she was a young child. However, due to the effects of coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion, the headland and dunes diminished completely over time, leaving Louisiana’s coast vulnerable, says Joni Tuck, external relations manager for the Greater Lafourche Port Commission.

With this threat, Louisiana coastal advocate organizations and state coastal organizations combined their resources and raised money to make this project possible. Maloz said the money came from the Coastal Impact Assistance Program, surplus dollars from the state’s budget, and the largest piece came as a result from the BP oil spill.

“The Caminada Headland is one of the largest projects the state has completed to date in terms of restoring a barrier island and headland,” says Simone Maloz, CEO of Restore or Retreat.

Sand from Ship Shoal, a barrier island 30 miles off the coast of Terrebonne Parish that is now underwater, was dredged and pumped about 9 million cubic yards to rebuild the headland, says Tuck.

“This is the first project in Louisiana to dredge sand from an offshore shoal in the Gulf of Mexico to restore habitat on a barrier shoreline,” according to the CPRA’s website.

Maloz said the sand from Ship Shoal is of excellent quality; she compared it to the white sand seen on the beaches in Florida. “It’s not dirty, muddy Mississippi sand,” she says.

About 300 acres and six miles of beach and dune on the western half of the headland, which protects Port Fourchon, has been restored. The eastern half, which includes Elmer’s Island and wildlife habitat refuge, has also been restored and includes about 500 acres and seven miles, according to the CPRA’s signage at the headland.

Though the restoration piece of the project is complete, Tuck said the State of Louisiana will continue implementing projects at the Caminada Beach for recreational and accessibility purposes. Six million dollars will fund an improved road system leading to the beach, a shuttle service along the Caminada Beach, Kayak launches, trash can areas as well as more culverts under the road for better water drainage, Tuck says.

Maloz says this restoration project, previously known as the Barataria Basin Barrier Shoreline or Triple BS project, was a high priority in the Coastal Protection Master Plan because the barrier island is the first line of defense against storm damage.
Not only does the Caminada Headland protect the coastal residents and industries it surrounds, but it also provides protection to the largest portion of Louisiana’s economy — the oil and gas industry.

The Caminada Headland protects Port Fourchon’s multi-billion-dollar assets above ground and, perhaps more importantly, below ground, says Tuck. The Caminada headland protects three of the largest pipelines in the country, including the LOOP pipeline, Shell-Mars pipeline, and Chevron’s biggest pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Together those pipelines produce about 1 in every 5 barrels of oil in the country,” she says. “So just under 20 percent of all the nation’s oil is brought ashore through those three assets and is serviced by the assets in Port Fourchon every day.”

Several similar projects to restore and protect our disappearing coast are underway. For a glimpse of these projects, visit

by Jenna Orgeron

Locals have not only formed careers and communities based on the numerous waterways of South Louisiana, but they have crafted entire festivals to celebrate the environment that supports their way of life.

Festivals and celebrations like Paddle Bayou Lafourche, Tarpon Rodeo, Alligator Festival, Voice of the Wetlands and Thibodeauxville celebrate the southern waterways of Louisiana and help raise money to preserve and maintain the flowing foundation of the community.

According to Mayor David Camardelle, an event like the International Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo brings around 12,000 tourists to the small town with a usual population of about 3,000. Camardelle says people travel from different states and countries to go out on the water, fish, relax, and enjoy “Sportsman’s Paradise.”

Other festivals, like Voice of the Wetlands, encourage attendees to camp out in Louisiana’s wetlands to enjoy performances by local musicians while eating famous Cajun cuisine. Jana Anselmi, a yearly VOW attendee, says that the festival is one of her favorite events of the year.

“It’s a free festival with great music and phenomenal food! The only catch is paying to eat, but I don’t mind giving my money to help my hometown,” she says.

Another celebration, the Thibodeauxville Fall Festival, is held in the downtown streets of Thibodaux, a small city located along Bayou Lafourche. The day-long festival includes live music, a car show, and the beloved duck race in the bayou.

“Thibodeauxville is a chance for local businesses and the community to join together and celebrate all of the things that make the city what it is, and that includes the bayou that runs through it,” says Derek Landry, owner of Last Call, one of the bars in Downtown Thibodaux.

by Jenna Orgeron

Some southern Louisiana natives still speak in their own language, which evolved from a combination of cultures influenced by their ancestors who first settled along the waterways in the bayou region.

Edward Ledet, a fluent Cajun French speaker who was born and raised on Bayou Lafourche, says a large group of French immigrants, known as Acadians, traveled by water and boat from Northern Canada to the delta of the Mississippi River where they made a living from the water and wetlands of South Louisiana.

Other nationalities populated the region as well, like Haitian, Vietnamese, and Native American. As a result of people from these different backgrounds migrating to this region to start a new life in the southern swamps and bayous, Cajun culture was born.

These people who spoke different languages needed to work and communicate with one another on the water to make a living, so they named the waterways and created common water-related terms that helped them understand each other and the environment they were inhabiting.

Linda Lafont, another bayou native and former French teacher of 33 years, recounts some of her earliest school memories of being forced to repeat sentences in English until she got them grammatically correct.

“It would take me a few tries because I was literally translating every single word, from French to English,” Lafont says since she only spoke French with her relatives and neighbors and they never corrected her grammar. The dominant influence of French is because of the dominant influence of water. According to Lafont, “the French-speaking people who built business and homes along these waterways maintained their own little community in this region to keep their heritage alive.”

Caitlin Orgeron, currently French teacher in the bayou region and Lafont’s former student, says “the combination of various languages and improper translation without grammatical correction” is what formed Cajun French.

“But,” Orgeron continues, “the bayous, the communities that surround them and the deep appreciation for tradition is why it’s still spoken today.”

by Jenna Orgeron

Boat bar-hopping is just one of the unique activities that bayou region residents have discovered and mastered based on their surrounding environment.

Seth Cheramie, a 24-year-old resident who was born and raised on the bayou said this is his favorite pastime on the weekends.

“It’s something we’ve done since I was a kid and I’ve never seen it anywhere else,” he says. “There’s no place like the bayou.”

Along some of the bayous near Gramercy, Louisiana, locals have established restaurants and bars, like Lagniappe’s and the Tiger Hut. These restaurants and bars provide a place to dock a watercraft while boaters can enjoy a bite to eat and a little something to drink. And of course, in Louisiana, that usually means an alcoholic drink.

There may be questions as to how this is activity is even allowed, but partaking in the fun is completely legal according to Livingston Parish Officer Mark Erwin.

“As long as participants have a designated sober driver for the watercraft and follow the laws enforced by the local water patrol, they’re good to go!” he says.

According to the Livingston Parish Water Patrol, there are three main laws enforced by officers.

  1. All persons are wearing a proper fitting life jacket, with all belts buckledand zippers zipped (if any)
  2. Proper operation of watercraft
    • For boats: a sober driver who is of age, has a certified Louisiana boating license
    • For jet skis: a sober driver who is of age, has a certified Louisiana boating license, wearing operating lanyard securely on wrist
  3. Up-to-date state-mandated motorboat registration sticker displayed on watercraft

As for personal safety and responsibility of participants, boat bar-hopping is no different than its dry land equivalent. Any person who joins the party must be of age, drink responsibly and agree not operate a watercraft under the influence of alcohol. Whether on the road or on water, a DD is always a party essential, Erwin says.

Boat bar-hopping is not a hobby that can be executed just anywhere. These Louisiana bayous serve as the foundation for numerous communities throughout the state.

Cheramie, who boat bar-hops almost every weekend, says, “It’s amazing how something as simple as water connects everyone around here.”

by Kathleen Rodrigue

Friends of Bayou Lafourche partnered with Nicholls State University to create an $8.1 million recreational area that will allow the Thibodaux community better access to Bayou Lafourche.

Spanning 7.5 acres of land, the Nicholls State University Bayou-Side Comprehensive Master Plan includes sidewalks, floating docks, a boat launch, an outdoor classroom, a pavilion, covered seating areas, and other improvements, says Ryan Perque, Executive Director of Friends of Bayou Lafourche that is directing the plan.

“We saw the Nicholls property as an area that was extremely under-utilized and the highest potential of use due to the large population,” Perque says.

Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou, the Lafourche Parish tourism agency, gave money to hire Duplantis Design Group’s landscaping team.

“This plan has the potential to attract more people to our area as well as improve the quality of life for the people that live here,” says Timothy Bush, President and CEO of Louisiana’s Cajun Bayou.

Perque says Friends of Bayou Lafourche collaborated with Nicholls administration, staff and student leaders, Thibodaux City Councilmen, Lafourche Parish Councilman, Louisiana Cajun Bayou, Duplantis Design Group, Bayou Lafourche Fresh Water District and other community members to create the comprehensive plan.

Quenton Fontenot, Nicholls professor and head of biological sciences, said the Nicholls biology department is excited for better access to the bayou.

“It would give students a living lab space outside,” Fontenot says. “They can collect specimens right in front of campus instead of driving to get them. If we have an outdoor classroom or a pavilion with seating, we can do our lectures right next to the bayou.”

Henry Templet, a native of the bayou region and Treasurer of Friends of Bayou Lafourche, says he is also looking forward to better bayou access and another way for the community to get on the water.

“People used to use the bayou for fishing, crabbing, boating, and even skiing sometimes,” Templet says. “Now people in our area go on vacations to other places to use their streams and rivers for fun activities and never think to just do it in our own bayou.”

The plan will be done in phases and, with each of the nine phases dependent on outside funding, there is no timeline for completion of the entire plan, he says.

As of right now, Friends of Bayou Lafourche are continuing to seek funding for the project and informing people of the bayou’s purpose, Perque says.

Friends of Bayou Lafourche, a non-profit organization established in 2016, works to enhance Bayou Lafourche’s physical appearance and create and promote recreational opportunities.

Perque says he saw becoming a part of the organization as an opportunity to get involved in something he was passionate about.

“I’m from Thibodaux and I’m always on the water. I love having the opportunity to make improvements to our region, because it’s something that is certainly needed,” he says.

Perque says the Nicholls project is just one of many they have planned for the future. Friends of Bayou Lafourche plan to improve other pieces of land along the bayou in the Donaldsonville area; create an interactive map of Bayou Lafourche to inform people of access points; and create advisory committees in different areas of the bayou to address each specific area’s needs.