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Wetlands Center Expanding in University Research Park

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A long-term commitment by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and the U.S. Geological Survey for research into wetland issues like coastal erosion is growing even stronger.

Officials from both groups signed an agreement today to begin the planning and design of an expansion to the headquarters of the National Wetlands Research Center, located in University Research Park.

Between 70,000 and 80,000 square feet are included in the expansion. This added space means more offices, laboratories and common space such as a library for the headquarters. Last year, an appropriations bill totaling $1.45 million was created for the planning and design of the expansion through the efforts of U.S. Sen. John Breaux and U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu. Design is expected to begin this spring and conclude in 2005.

“ When the university was selected as the site for the headquarters of the National Wetlands Center more than 10 years ago, we knew this center was important to Louisiana and the United States,” said UL Lafayette President Ray Authement. “We knew then research at the center was vital to our state and our country and today we know that even more so. By signing this agreement, the commitment to conducting wetlands research is stronger than ever.”

USGS officials said the new space will become an integrated science center. It will combine research from the university, various government agencies and all components of the USGS including biology, hydrology, geography and geology into one unit focusing on wetland issues. The center’s staff of 200 is expected to double with the expansion.

Initial areas of research for the integrated center include ecological restoration, invasive species, carbon cycle science, sea-level change and subsidence, nutrient transport, transformation and flux, disease ecology ad harmful algal booms and energy resources. In addition, the center will focus on developing a Gulf Coast Regional Response Center, Gulf Coast integrated data bases along with outreach and educational programs.

“It’s wonderful to see the National Wetlands Center and University Research Park on the grow,” said Dr. Wayne Denton, Research Park director. “The coupling of the two was a natural for the university. The research being conducted here goes right along with what the Wetlands Center scientists are doing. This expansion will allow for more of this.”

The mission of the National Wetlands Research Center, which works closely with the university and other agencies, is to conduct research on wetlands in addition to serving as a clearinghouse of information on wetlands. Work is primarily centered on Louisiana, the Lower Mississippi Valley and the Gulf Coast. The center also has joint international projects.

It has been in University Research Park since 1992. The center began its existence in 1975 as the National Coastal Ecosystems Team, part of the Fish and Wildlife Service. It was then housed at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

The center moved to Slidell in 1979 and became part of the U.S. Geological Service in 1996. Center scientists were the first group to document the tremendous wetland loss Louisiana suffered between the 1950s and the 1970s. The center has continued to work in partnership with state and other federal agencies to investigate wetlands and monitor their loss and restoration.