Founding Father Thomas Paine once said, "Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil." Sometimes this is a very accurate description.
Elmer’s Island has always had a great history as far as the outdoors are concerned. Located just before Grand Isle, it’s actually a peninsula of Cheniere Caminada. It’s named for W.J. Elmer, a dentist who bought the property in 1949 as a personal fishing spot.
A lot of other folks were interested as well, so he opened a campground there and charged visitors $7.50 a day. My first time surf fishing took place there along with some of my family members and two of my kids. The island is a temporary home for nearly 200 species of birds, so birding is popular there as well.
The 1145 acre island was still used by the public after Elmer’s death, but eventually a decision was made by the heirs to close to the public due to liability and other issues.
A great friend and conservationist who is no longer with us, Keith Saucier, spearheaded an effort for the state to purchase the island so this place would remain secured for public access to enjoy every type of outdoor activity afforded there. Saucier was a long-time East Ascension Sportsman’s League and Louisiana Wildlife Federation member and officer.
A lot of work went in to the effort, but it was a crowning achievement accomplished during the Jindal administration. A massive rebuilding took place, and the famed island was opened to the public again in 2008. Folks could drive on the island to find their favorite fishing spot, and life was good again.
More improvements were made to the refuge including a walking bridge along most of the 13-mile stretch of the beach.
However, a decision was made to restrict vehicle access to the beach, basically reducing the ability of the public to use the place to the fullest. The decision was not met with great joy by the people it was intended for.
Founding Father Thomas Paine once said, "Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil." Sometimes this is a very accurate description. He was not talking about the people who were involved in government and neither am I. He was talking about the entity. As well-intentioned as things can be, I sometimes wonder about what goes into a decision. I think Saucier would have turned over in his grave about that decision.
But Saucier would come out of his grave if he heard about the latest attempt to “improve” the island. On August 18, Representative Jerry "Truck" Gisclair, Mayor of Grand Isle David Camardelle, and others witnessed LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet sign an agreement for the Grand Isle Independent Levee District (GIILD) to operate and manage the Grand Isle Airport at Elmer’s Island.
When W.J. Elmer owned the property, he constructed a small air strip for his personal use. In the mid-20th century, it was an aviation gateway to Grand Isle. The overgrown airstrip has not been used in more than 25 years. A plan to reopen the airstrip along with big expansions was made by Camardelle and other officials.
This agreement between Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) and GIILD would include the development of an aircraft hangar, an aircraft ramp and tie down, fuel tanks, a fueling area, and an area for a terminal building. "We expect that this airstrip will allow for enhanced public use and recreational activities on the Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge," stated Governor Edwards.
LDWF conducts inshore and offshore research projects that are vital to the assessment of our oyster and fishery resources in nearby Grand Isle, Louisiana. "In addition to increasing recreational access to the Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge and the Elmer’s Island Management Area, this airstrip will provide our agency easier access to our fisheries research lab and oyster hatchery," Montoucet said.
This airstrip may also improve access for out-of-state tourists to Louisiana’s only inhabited barrier island, Grand Isle.
"The Elmer’ Island Airstrip is an airstrip that historically serviced Grand Isle for many years," Camardelle said. "Now that the airstrip is public owned and locally operated, we have the opportunity to rebuild it into an airstrip that we can all be proud of. The economic, recreational, and public safety benefits associated with this airstrip are tremendous."
Eventually the public got wind of the plan and public outrage quickly ensued. Communications from many outdoor organizations and public attendance at the commission meeting on October 4 caused a change in plans.
Montoucet announced Thursday, October 4 that an agreement to essentially lease land to the Grand Isle
Independent Levee District for the development of an airstrip on Elmer’s Island has been terminated. The announcement came during the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission monthly meeting in Baton Rouge.
The proposal had stirred criticism from conservation groups and others. Montoucet addressed the commissioners and provided the department’s rationale for entering the agreement. He offered assurances that any future discussion on this topic would be vetted by the full commission.
During Montoucet’s prepared remarks he stated, "I am surely not too proud to recognize and understand the criticism and concerns that have been raised, both in regard to the environmental concerns with the project, but also as it relates to the desires for the public to have involvement beyond the permitting process for this proposal.
"Judging from the volume of communications my office has received on this topic, I believe that this news will be well received by many of the folks here today and the people they represent. However, I do feel the need to briefly explain the thought process behind the decision to execute an agreement in the first place.
"Allow me to state, for the record, that many of the environmental concerns that I’ve heard are absolutely valid. In fact, we as a conservation agency, share many of those same concerns, and we expressed those concerns to Mayor Camardelle when he requested to use the old airstrip property.
"However, Mayor Camardelle indicated that he could propose a project that would have minimal impact on fish and wildlife resources and provide recreational access and economic development to the area, all at no cost to the state."
So all efforts to open an airstrip on Elmer’s Island have been halted for the time being. But you better keep an eye out!
On the lighter side of things, squirrel season opened state-wide this past Saturday and by the sound of shots heard around my house plenty of folks were taking part in opening morning hunts.
I did not get to go, but I got lots of reports of hunters enjoying the hunting celebration, especially taking kids out in the woods. Next week I hope to bring you a blow by blow report of my first trip of the year. The weather is supposed to be great.
So until next time, remember to keep the slack out and set the hook hard. Have fun in the outdoors, be safe, and may God truly bless you!
Lyle Johnson is a free-lance writer, co-host of Ascension Outdoors TV and Curator of the Louisiana State Fish Records. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EASL Monthly Meeting: 3rd Monday every month, East Ascension Sportsman’s League meeting held at Chef KD’s on Highway 74 starting at 7 p.m. A meal served and special speaker will be in attendance.
Squirrel season: October 7-February 28, daily bag limit 8 possession 24.
Rabbit season: October 7-February 28, daily bag limit 8 possession 24.
CCA S.T.A.R. Banquet: October 18, 5 p.m., Live Oak Arabians, 6300 Jefferson Highway, Baton Rouge. Tickets $50 (free for youngsters 12 and younger). Call CCA 225-952-9200.
Delta Waterfowl Banquet: November 2, Lamar Dixon Expo Center, starting at 6 p.m. with dinner starting at 7:30. Contact Kristen Latiolais at 225-315-3023 or email email@example.com
Need an event publicized? Contact Lyle at firstname.lastname@example.org