Cutting Off the Tide: Inside Webster Pierce’s Work and Territory

Cut Off, a region in the Southeastern corner of Louisiana, is home to over 5,000 people. The surrounding marshes along Highway 1 are rapidly disappearing— blatant evidence of the area’s uncontrolled subsidence combined with sea level rise. Cut Off is also a pit stop for oil rigs, whose site workers dig navigation canals through the wetlands, further exposing them to the Gulf’s open water. As the remaining marsh washes into the Gulf, Cut Off and neighboring communities are significantly more at risk for coastal flooding. One man, however, is using his powers of invention to fight the effects of these trends. “New Orleans and the rest of the state need to take more immediate action in restoring our estuaries,” says businessman and inventor Webster Pierce. “Otherwise, we will literally have nothing.”  On June 2, 2013, Pierce took Global Green staff members Jeff Supak and Jacob Dilson on a tour of Cut Off, specifically the areas where he has positioned the Wave Robber, his recently-patented sediment retention device.

Pierce led his visitors to the local levee where his device is positioned. Elevated two to three feet above the shoreline, the Wave RobberTM catches the current with valves that flip open from the outside. These valves then lock as the water tries to flow back out, slowing it long enough to allow sediment to filter out as the water makes its way around the sides of the device. In a relatively short time, a significant

Webster Pierce presents his patented wave robber at Global Green's Blue Carbon  Workshop.

amount of sediment collects behind the device.

When enough sediment is accumulated, wetland vegetation is planted, anchoring the new soil in place, rebuilding the marsh and its storm buffering ability a piece at a time. Pierce has designed the Wave RobberTM as an alternative to more commonly used rock barriers, which he says are erosion-prone and last two years at most. “My invention doesn’t fight the water surge,” explains Pierce.  “It’s offering resistance, and has the potential to salvage this area.”

Pierce was the winner of the 2013 Water Challenge, sponsored by The Idea Village, and is currently one out of four finalists in a competition administered by the Natural Resources and Conservation Services (NRCS), a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In March 2012, NRCS put out a request for proposals (RFP) for alternatives to the rock barriers—criteria for success are: (a) how well the alternative prevents erosion, and (b) which is most cost-efficient to replicate, install and remove.

The four competing companies’ devices are positioned along Vermillion Bay, in Vermillion and Iberia Parishes.  The winner will sign a contract to install 500 feet of that device along Shark Island Jr. (or, in Pierce’s words, “The most damaged area NRCS could find for our pilot projects.”) Ideally, Pierce would like to position his devices all in Lafourche Parish.  Stay tuned!