Words from Walter

Home – Archives

Walter Pilie' for councilman district #3

My feelings about advocacy

My Feelings About Advocacy

Walter Pilie’
My working career spanned 42 years. It was a very fulfilling and rewarding time. Mind you, not
everything was fun, but almost everything I had undertaken was challenging. I was one of the lucky
ones, as lots of people don’t feel the way I do. For this, I am grateful.
When I retired in 2015, I experienced what can only be described as a vacuum. I had spent 42 years
working at “full bore” with the proverbial foot to the floor. All of a sudden, nothing! What do you do
with your time? It took a good while to discover a new life, free to use my time any way I chose.
I fixed everything in sight. I had lots of work on our “escape” house – bought in 2006 for hurricane
evacuation. That house needs constant attention. So, all the things on that list got done. Things at home
require fixing, too, and that list got knocked out. I renovated a patio as well.
Hobbies weren’t a problem, as I like to fish and explore new places on the water. I kept talking about
hunting, which was a passion at an early age, but it gets harder as you get older. So, fishing was the
ticket. Boat maintenance is always required, so I fixed my boats and trailers.
When I ran out of things to do, I would fix engines for relatives and friends.
Finally, I ran out of things to do. I started paying attention to things in the news, and heard about a boat
launch proposed on the West Bank of St Charles parish. The deal seemed “fishy” to me. A long-term
lease with improvements on the public dime, and after the expiration – the public walks away with
nothing. It would be privately owned. That was a pivot point for me in advocacy.
I got very involved in the boat launch issue, and knew people on a committee formed to come up with
an acceptable plan for that launch. The parish sorely needs a decent boat launch, having as much water
around as we do. I dedicated a lot of time feeding the committee members with researched
information and data. Ultimately, the site first considered was taken off the table. But, councilman
Hogan had been in discussion with Chevron about a plot of land bordering Bayou Des Allemands, owned
by Chevron. The land was used for oil and gas production for decades and played out. After many
negotiations, the parish acquired the tract of over 100 acres with 3500’ of water frontage by a donation
from Chevron. I followed that all the way to speaking on behalf of the donation at our council meeting.
My friend Vic Buccola who was on the boat launch committee has a relative, Mr. Milton Cambre. I was
introduced to Mr. Cambre and we all went to the Bonnet Carree spillway together to tour the work that
Milton had done on the Wetlands Watchers park. That project was just one of Milton’s projects that he
dedicated his retired time to, having retired in his 50’s. After our tour and the stories I heard of the
history, we stopped by Milton’s home in Norco. There were plaques from President HW Bush on the
wall regarding his work on getting Bayou La Branche dedicated as a scenic US waterway. WOW! There
was more.. spillway history, maps and pictures. I had served on a Citizen’s committee in the 90’s to
determine a “use plan” for the spillway and had been an avid hunter and fisherman there since a boy.
My interest was piqued!
But, Milton shared the sad history of land loss, too. He told me about the plans underway to replace the
railroad trestle over the lake, between the spillway and I-10. Having seen his documentation on land
loss, Milton shared the plans that the railroad had, which inevitably would impact the shoreline negatively.
I thought to myself that this is something that we as citizens might be able to impact. After
much research, and filing public comments to the lead agency, the US Coast Guard, and contacting the
US Corp of Engineers, I unfortunately determined the effort to be too late. But, there was a lot of
learnings gained regarding the workings of government agencies. The damage is seen from I-10 now!
The next thing I got involved in was Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge in 2018 and 2019. An
“innocent” trip to the boat launch in my dad’s old flatboat (there is a 20 hp motor limit there) revealed
another issue requiring public outcry. The USACE identified Turtle Bayou in the refuge as a wetlands
reclamation project needed to offset other wetlands losses elsewhere – look up mitigation bank and
credits to get an idea why this was done. I couldn’t launch a tiny flatboat because the launch was
overtaken by equipment and materials for the Turtle Bayou reclamation. I came another day and the
launch was still monopolized, but I was able to launch. The next problem was that the refuge had been
overtaken by water hyacinth, a very invasive aquatic plant. The Corps had taken over the boat launch,
staged and then installed flex hoses (big ones I might add) through culverts under Hwy 11 to pump Lake
Ponchartrain bottoms in and build up marsh. I doing so, no aquatic vegetation control was done while
the project was underway, and the hyacinth took over entirely!
I couldn’t believe that the waterways had been allowed to be overgrown, while the Corp’s contractors
used them for reclamation. I researched the agency responsible for maintenance. The USFWS has a
budget to control the water hyacinth in the Bayou Sauvage NWR and Big Branch NWR as well as others.
Contacting them, and the USACE produced no results. It took me contacting my congressman, Garrett
Graves’ office! Though the NWR isn’t in his district, he put needed pressure on the responsible agency.
With my friend Vic, we made a tour of the NWR in a USFWS airboat when they claimed it wasn’t as
obstructed as I claimed. A lot of glyphosate was then applied, but the dying vegetation sinks and
depletes oxygen. Fishing was done, since the fish need oxygenated water.
Though the water got mostly cleared, they let it slide again the next year and it was unusable for
another year or so. I visited the USFWS in LaCombe and met with management. They continue to
“maintain” the waterways, but the damage is pretty much done to the fishing. The resource is next to
worthless where there was once a fantastic fishing area!  Then they had the nerve to propose charging a
use fee to launch there. I am hoping that scheduled maintenance may result in the fish resource
returning one day.
These experiences solidified my belief in advocacy! Since then, I have been involved in many other
public and private advocacy efforts. After floods in my area, including my home flooding, I have spent
well over an equivalent of a man-year of time to advocate for public improvements in drainage. These
efforts are beginning to pay off some, but there is much work left to go.
In private endeavors, I got directly involved in efforts at my “escape” property at Lake Rosemound in W
Feliciana parish. That effort has resulted in my running for the board of directors, getting elected, and
taking over a committee on dredging to sustainably address lake health. I also got directly involved in an
effort to stop loggers from crossing our dam, engaging a geotechnical engineer as an expert witness.
That also resulted in a recommendation to repair a “seep” in our dam, for which I spearheaded a recent
overlay project to completion.
I am still involved many advocacy efforts, and will continue. The efforts are too long to describe here.
My work benefits my communities and as a result, me too. I wish everyone had the time and inclination
to advocate for something. What a better place this world would be! One person can make a difference!