In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the state of Louisiana took the bold intentional step to form the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA). The agency was charged with developing and implementing an integrated, science-based coastal restoration plan, and updating that plan every five years to incorporate new available technologies and strategies.
Using the best available science and engineering, the first iteration of a coastal master plan was completed in 2007 and updated in 2012. The draft version of the 2017 Coastal Master Plan that you will consider this session is the result of a process regarded as a national model for its scientific considerations and public review. As stated in its foreword, the plan “focuses our efforts and guides the actions needed to sustain our coastal ecosystem, safeguard coastal populations, and protect vital economic and cultural resources. Additionally, the Coastal Master Plan provides the context for evaluating other activities in the coastal zone, including transportation, navigation, and port projects; oil and gas development; groundwater management and land use planning.”
With billions of dollars of new revenue from the BP oil spill settlements and proceeds from the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) becoming available this year, we have an unprecedented window of opportunity as we move into an exciting new phase of ambitious implementation. The resources secured thus far are significant but represent only about a third of the estimated $50 billion necessary to implement major aspects of the plan.
It is critical that our State put itself in a position to fully engage in partnership with the federal government and the private sector to secure the billions of dollars in additional resources that will be necessary to save our coast and our way of life. To this end, we must succeed in executing our Coastal Master Plan in the most efficient, effective and transparent way possible.
The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL) is the largest and oldest coastal advocacy organization in the State. Our members believe that coastal advocates, stakeholders, and lawmakers must all be vigilant and attentive. As a member of the Legislature, you will be called upon to make many important decisions that will guide this momentous process. Respectfully, the members of CRCL ask you to consider the following tenets we believe are crucial to effectively address the unprecedented ecological challenge facing our State. Only deliberate and far-sighted legislative action will give coastal Louisiana a chance to meet this existential crisis.
1. Pass the Annual Plan and 5-year 2017 Coastal Master Plan
The thoughtful scientific and public policy deliberations that produced the 2017 draft Coastal Master Plan were part of a process that serves as a national model, and indeed, for which we can all be proud. Now it is your duty to carefully consider the draft before you. CRCL supports the ambition, scope and underlying science of the plan. One suggestion: act to further improve transparency around dollars spent in the Annual Plan.
2. Formal Call for Urgency
The science is clear: only by harnessing the power of the Mississippi River do we have any hope of saving much of coastal Louisiana. Legislators should pass a resolution urging all involved federal agencies, including the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to prioritize permitting and review to allow construction of the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion to begin by the year 2020.
3. Protect the Coastal Funding
For years, Louisiana has had a plan for the coast, but no real money to implement it. The State has dedicated precious few resources to the crisis. But now, for the first time, we have both a plan and money. Several billions of dollars from BP oil spill settlements, combined with the federal funding from GOMESA that took 10 years to become available, have given our State a real down opportunity to implement some ambitious projects. In doing so, we will demonstrate our resolve and build support for attracting federal and private dollars over the long term. In the near term, there will be pressure for you to attempt to divert coastal dollars to purposes other than coastal restoration and protection. We urge you to reject such a shortsighted approach.
4. Transparency in Reporting and Operations
If we are to be able to attract and secure the billions of additional dollars necessary in the future from the federal government and private sector, we must affect transparency in all our operations. Ultimately, we must be able to show tangible results achieved as efficiently and cost effectively as possible. We believe the Legislature should require that the CPRA develop an open reporting mechanism that provides project tracking complete with cost estimates measured against actual expenditures; construction time estimates measured against construction deliverables, and performance outcomes measured against baseline modeling.
5. Ensure Reasonable and Responsible Capacity
We must make sure our efforts are aligned and that nowhere in our process do we employ tactics that are “penny-wise and pound foolish.” To that end, we must make sure that CPRA has adequate staff to be able to move hundreds of millions of dollars as efficiently and timely as possible while maintaining all appropriate safeguards and measures. To accomplish this, CRCL believes Legislators should support the CPRA Chairman in a two-fold approach: first, a top to bottom review of agency protocols and approval processes to assess what efficiencies can be achieved. Secondly, the Legislature should support and fund the Chairman’s efforts to ensure the agency is reasonably resourced so that projects move to completion as quickly as possible and are not unnecessarily delayed due to inadequate capacity.