The man who created land in St. Charles Parish amid Louisiana’s coastal erosion crisis is honored

Matherne is named parish’s Employee of the Year

Earl Matherne’s gift is his ability to talk to people, and one that’s earned him recognition as this year’s St. Charles Parish Employee of the Year.In Matherne’s 25 years with the parish, he started as the coastal zone management planner, primarily doing wetland restoration and working on wetland permitting with the state and federal government.

“From Day One, I’ve worked in the Planning and Zoning Department so I’ve been part of permitting and all the planning work,” said the Bayou Gauche resident. “Then I took over flood zones about two years later in 1994.”

Since that time, he’s done all three areas of work and his title of planning administrator makes it official, which he’s had for about 1-1/2 years.

“This is all about 2016, and the big thing in 2016 was that FEMA finally agreed to change the price for the A99 flood zone so a lot of folks on the East Bank got a break in their flood insurance,” Matherne said.

The break is translating into an impressive rate drop from about $1,800 a year to about $450 a year.

Matherne said it took years to convince FEMA that it was the right thing to do.

“I have to credit FEMA, they made the change, but it was about me bugging them to change it,” he said. “It was my privilege to give them the information and their people have been very pleased with the work we’re doing.”

His job with the parish is one he’s had his entire adult life.

“I started here three months out of college,” Matherne said. “I get to try to help people. I’m not always successful, but I get to try. This is basically neighbors. This is people I see at Wal-Mart. I’ve made a lot of friends.”

He considers it a job where he does the best he can and it feels pretty good.

Matherne got a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Management so getting to work in wetlands with the parish was a good fit for him. The rest, he said, he learned on the job.

“Now, restoration and flood protection is the same thing,” he said. “That wasn’t always true. When I first started, it was two jobs. But, now, government realizes wetlands protection and flood control are the same thing … at least in south Louisiana.”

When he first started the job, Matherne conceded it was just a job.

“I’d just gotten out of school, working as a contractor at Monsanto and I was just looking for a job, not necessarily looking for a career,” he said. “But it just worked out for me.”

Working for local government means remembering it’s not politics – it’s government, he said.

“I’m lucky that I’m not really in politics,” Matherne said. “I do the work that any and all our elected officials want me to do. It’s not controversial. Everyone wants wetlands restored, and flood control and reasonable flood insurance.”

Matherne said he’s worked for four parish presidents and always gotten support from them.

And although people have told him his strength is communicating with people, he said his gift really has to be patience and especially when it comes to wetlands restoration projects.

“The process in which this kind of money is spent is a slow process just by nature,” Matherne said. “It’s a public process so things take time. There’s a process by which projects are chosen and it turns into a process by which projects get funded and once funded it’s a process that projects get built.”

He’s especially proud of his shoreline projects at Lake Pontrachartrain and Lake Salvador, where adding stone jetties have actually helped collect new land there. Nature took its course and built new habitat while the Louisiana coast is eroding at a record and destructive pace.

After seeing what how it well and fast it worked with shells piled up there after a storm, Matherne said they contemplated what would happen if they did the same thing with rocks.

“We were amazed by how fast it filled and vegetated,” he said. “So, we did some more of it, and we’ve been really pleased with the results.”

Being named Employee of the Year is an honor to Matherne, and especially so because it comes from other employees on a committee that he’s served on.

“Everyone wants to be recognized by their peers,” he said. “Careerwise, I’m going to just keep doing my job. It’s all I know how to do.”


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