Fruit Trees Bring New Life To Flood-Prone Properties

DULAC, LA (AP) — One of the largest homes in Dulac used to sit at 6877 Shrimpers Row, but for more than 12 years the land has been empty.

         On Feb. 11, volunteers brought new life to the property, now owned by Terrebonne Parish government, by planting about 45 fruit trees where the one-story, brick house once stood.

         "I'm really happy to see it come together," Wendy Billiot, director of Keep Terrebonne Beautiful, said of the organization's "Fruit Trees for the Bayous" effort. "It's something really productive to do with the parish properties."

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         Through the project 140 trees bearing Louisiana Sweet oranges, satsumas, figs and lemons will be planted at parish-owned sites across Terrebonne's five bayou communities and Houma throughout February. The fruit will be eventually be available for free to local residents.

         "It'll be about two years before there'll be viable fruit, but they're for the communities in which they were planted," Billiot said.

         Billiot received a grant from UPS to purchase the trees and said she was motivated to take on the project to bring attention to the bayou communities.

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         "Even though they're a huge geographical part of the parish, the citizens are sometimes forgotten," she said.

         One issue facing these communities is that few grocery stores have reopened along Terrebonne's bayous after major storms.

         "This is one way that we can offer some fresh fruits and vitamin C to the communities where their stores don't carry those things," she said.

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         The project also engages nonprofits with the communities they serve.

         Helping with the work are volunteers with Bayou Grace Community Services, Sowing Seeds Community Garden, Terrebonne Advocates For Possibility, the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center, the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program and UPS employees.

         BTNEP led the planting Thursday at the Shrimpers Row property ? the largest in the project ? with the help of teen volunteers from the local Wetland Warriors group.

         The trees provide additional flood control by taking in rainfall and help reverse some of the environmental effects associated with development.

         "I'm sure this was all wooded area before, but then people come and settle down on it, so you're cutting away a lot of these beneficial trees," said Matt Benoit, BTNEP's habitat restoration coordinator. "Having opportunities to replant these areas and bring back the habitat is great."

         All of the properties set to receive the fruit trees are owned by Terrebonne Parish, which purchased them through Federal Emergency Management Agency buyouts after storms.

         "All these properties were storm-damaged and the homeowners elected to sell," said Terrebonne Parish Recovery Planner Jennifer Gerbasi.

         When the parish purchases homes with FEMA dollars, it has few options to transfer ownership, and the properties must permanently remain in open space use, making a type of community garden a productive use of the space, Gerbasi said.

         Gerbasi estimated the parish owns more than 100 buyout properties of varying sizes and conditions.

         In 2012, the parish planted 50 bald cypress trees donated by the Apache Foundation on one of the properties in Chauvin. BTNEP also recently planted roughly 150 woody trees on two storm buyout properties in Houma's Roberta Grove subdivision that will help provide food and protection for migratory birds, with plans for future plantings on more buyout properties.

         Neighbors are already excited about the changes to the cleared land.

         "This is awesome," said Dulac resident Pierre Solet, as he watched volunteers plant Shrimpers Row's newest citrus garden. "I'm going to come pick my share."

         – by AP/ Reporter Meredith Burns with The Courier

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