The team succeeded in cutting through some of the large trees that have fallen – or maybe were pushed – across the bayou before a sudden deluge and impending nightfall brought to mission to an end for the day.
Even with four-wheel drive, they were lucky to get back to the pavement on that slick brown ribbon the road along the levee becomes in wet weather.
But Wilson was able to document a) that the “bridge” that started this mess had not been removed, only breached by the winter’s high water, and b) that there are several large living trees blocking passage down the bayou that appear to have been purposely toppled across the winding, picturesque waterway through one of the wildest patches in the Atchafalaya Basin.
He has photos, he has GPS fixes, he has the assistance of the Tulane University Environmental Law Clinic, and he has the clout of the Waterkeeper Alliance, an organization of over 150 “keeper” movements around the globe.
Helping to shine a spotlight on the Duquesne issue are Conor Kennedy and Max Kennedy Jr., son and nephew, respectively, of Waterkeeper Alliance president Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
The two 18-year-olds are helping Wilson, an award-winning environmental activist, with the daunting task of wrenching what’s left of the 800,000-acre river swamp and hardwood bottomland wilderness from the heavy-handed grasp of exploitation and development.
Bayou Duquesne, which is part of a marked paddle trail through the 28,500-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers property, became impassible when Bayou Jack Logging Company of Plaucheville built a solid earthen bridge across it to harvest timber on the other side. They didn’t get a permit, as required under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act, and they didn’t remove the bridge, in effect a dam, when they pulled out.
When the Corps of Engineers appeared on the verge of issuing Bayou Jack an after-the-fact permit for the dam, Wilson got attorney Machelle Lee Hall of Tulane involved. Under threat of a lawsuit, Bayou Jack agreed to remove the dam when the floodwaters receded. And while there is now a breach in the dam, the banks and the waterway have not been returned to their original state.
Without a sustained current, the bayou is now clogged with rafts of water hyacinths hundreds of yards long and too high to see over from the seat of a canoe. More ominously, the stream is crisscrossed with downed trees that hinder navigation – another Section 10 violation if done on purpose.
The land is privately owned but navigable waters belong to the public.
Indian Bayou is a Corps-owned and -managed property that extends from I-10 northward into St. Landry Parish between the West Atchafalaya Protection Levee and the Atchafalaya River.
In 2011, Wilson was honored as a Tom’s of Maine River Hero during the annual National River Rally conference. The award by River Network celebrates those who have dedicated their lives to protecting the nation’s water supply.
To find out more about the Atchafalaya Basinkeeper and to help support its objectives, go to www.basinkeeper.org.