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Region’s water woes addressed at Entrepreneur Week

31st March 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Susan Buchanan
Contributing Writer

At last Monday’s fourth annual Water Challenge, an event during New Orleans Entrepreneur Week or NOEW 2014, business owners vied for $50,000 in seed money for ventures dealing with floods, water quality or coastal restoration. In the morning, speakers discussed regional water issues. Later in the day, four Southeast Louisi­ana entrepreneurs chosen as finalists — ORA Estuaries, Eco­Urban, iSee­Change and Riverview Con­struc­tion — pitched their business ideas. The winner was civil engineer Tyler Ortego, president and founder of Baton Rouge-based ORA Estuaries, a distributor of concrete rings to build oyster reefs.

The Idea Village and the Greater New Orleans Foundation sponsored the Water Challenge in the sixth annual Entrepreneur Week.

Last Monday, U.S. Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, the Water Challenge’s keynote speaker, said when South Louisiana needed to rebuild after Katrina, it was hard to know where to start. Along with everything else, education was in shambles, with hundred of New Orleans schools damaged and Dillard University students housed in the Hilton New Orleans Riverside. The schools have roared back since, and at this juncture fixing water problems is critical to rebuilding, she said.

OysterBreak rings are a reef-building product from Water Challenge winner ORA Estuaries. Courtesy of ORA Estuarie

OysterBreak rings are a reef-building product from Water Challenge winner
ORA Estuaries.
Courtesy of ORA Estuarie

Landrieu led a Congressional delegation to the Netherlands in early 2006 to view its dams, sea walls and surge barriers. And in 2009 she took a second delegation there. She is proud to be part of the 2012 launch of The Water Institute of the Gulf, a center of excellence in Baton Rouge, inspired in part by Deltares—a water research institute in the Netherlands.

“We can use ideas developed in the Water Challenge to create an Energy Challenge,” Landrieu said. She’s the new chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Louisiana is a pioneer in offshore drilling and has added to the nation’s natural gas supplies through fracking, she said. The state’s wave, wind and solar energy all have great potential. “We must consider how to use our resources to generate energy for the world and jobs for our state,” she said. She supports expanding U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas, a path that Louisiana is on now.

Landrieu noted that she, along with six other members of Congress, were targeted for sanctions by Russian President Vladimir Putin this month. “I wear that as a badge of honor,” she said, and noted that U.S. energy producers have considerable latitude compared with Russia’s government monopolies. Landrieu is running for reelection against Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy from Baton Rouge this November.

At Monday’s Water Challenge, a panel of leaders from St. Bernard Parish spoke. Among the parish’s hundreds of commercial fishing families, one member is typically out on the water while others are home doing the books, St. Bernard Chamber of Commerce CEO Stephen Reuther said The chamber encourages these businesses to view themselves as entrepreneurs and look for new income streams associated with fishing. During their slow winter months, St. Bernard fishermen, many of whom live just miles from downtown New Orleans, can engage in ecotourism, he said. Ed Shedlock, assistant director of the Entre­pre­neurship Center at Nunez Community College in Chalmette, said the school wants to help fishermen become certified in skills they need for tourism, participating in the state’s coastal restoration projects and other endeavors.

As for ORA Estuaries, the Water Challenge’s seed-money winner, the company’s OysterBreak technology is already installed in several locations on Louisiana’s coast. OysterBreak units, made of a marine-grade cement material, are designed to grow oysters based on their clustering tendencies. An OysterBreak project finished in Cameron Parish in early 2012 is covered in mollusks now. It was funded by the state’s Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act or CWPPRA program. Wayfarer Environmental Technologies, the manufacturer of OysterBreak, supplied over 1,200 cement rings to that structure in Cameron.

Last year’s Water Challenge winner, Webster Pierce of Pierce Industries in Lafourche Parish, invented and produced the Wave Robber, a modular shoreline-protection and sediment-retention system. If you have an idea for the next Challenge and would like to learn more, visit on the web.

This article originally published in the March 31, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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