April 19, 2017 10:15 AM

South Louisiana’s existential crisis collided with the inexorable math Tuesday afternoon in a Senate committee.

Photo Courtesy Coastal.la.gov

Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Director John Bradberry and Chief of Research Bren Haase went before the Senate Select Committee on Coastal Restoration and Flood Control Tuesday at the Capitol to discuss the third iteration of the Coastal Master Plan, the state’s strategic and tactical plan for dealing with coastal wetlands loss and flood protection.

Bradberry and Haase were prepared to talk about the details of the plan, but committee chair Sen. Brett Allain of Franklin wanted to talk first about the money. The CPRA has held the line at $50 billion in projects which could be deployed over the 50-year life of the plan.

Allain asked Bradberry how much of the $50 billion the state could actually put toward the plan. Bradberry explained that the state would have about $10 billion over the next 15 years to commit to projects in the plan with that coming from a mix of federal offshore revenue streams and a share of the BP disaster money. Bradberry also told the senators that the state would get the lion’s share of the BP money primarily because of the existence of the Master Plan, which has enabled the state to study coastal needs and develop and review project plans.

"So, the plan has positioned us to actually get the money needed to implement the projects in it," Bradberry said.

The BP money is primarily allocated to restoration projects under the terms of the settlement, Bradberry explained. Bradberry believes Louisiana can get about $7 billion of the BP money. That money represents the largest infusion of money into Master Plan projects and that will be spent on projects over the next 15 years.

After the BP money dries up, Bradberry said, federal revenue streams will continue over the life of the Master Plan. That would add another $9 billion or so to fund the projects in the plan.

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“Looking at the moneys we know we can count on, we’re going to be about $30.5 billion short of being able to fund the projects in the plan,” Bradberry told the members of the panel.

Sen. Sharon Hewitt of Slidell, a mechanical engineer who helped manage offshore projects for Shell, told Bradberry that what’s been missing in the CPRA presentations is “a list of what we’re gaining and what we’re willing to write off.”

“There’s nothing in your presentations that says ‘we’re going to gain this by doing that, but we can’t save this because we can’t justify the cost of doing it,’” Hewitt told Bradberry and Haas.

Committee vice chair Sen. Blade Morrish of Jennings urged the CPRA leaders to “look beyond just the science when you make decisions on what you’re going to do.”

“I know that the CPRA was very sensitive to the needs of communities in southwest Louisiana with the funding for shoreline protection that was originally not funded because it was not considered sustainable,” Morrish said. “But, I ask that you keep in mind the people involved. Projects might not be sustainable in the view of science but they can do a lot of good in sustaining communities.”

Hewitt noted that some projects that had been included in the 2012 Master Plan had been dropped in the new plan.

Bradberry said CPRA operates under a dynamic management approach, that even its annual plan looks out three years to see what is feasible and fundable.

Haase pointed out that in the 2012 version of the plan there were four Mississippi River sediment diversion projects included. As they moved toward planning on one of those projects, the CPRA staff did more detailed research on the other three. Ultimately two of those projects were withdrawn because they did not prove as effective as originally believed.

Haase pointed out that Louisiana has lost 1,900 square miles of coast over the past 80 years. The Coastal Master Plan, he told the committee members, is a framework for making the difficult decisions about what is worth saving.

“It’s not simply a wish list of all the things we need to do,” Haase said. “It’s a realistic approach to what we can do.”

Coastal.la.gov

The CPRA posts on its website a map showing what South Louisiana would look like if no action was taken to save the coast. While places like eastern Terrebonne Parish are losing land at an alarming rate, inaction would impose significant losses in coastal Acadiana, particularly in Vermilion, Iberia and St. Mary parishes.

What the science that serves as the basis of the 2017 Master Plan shows is that conditions driving wetlands loss are accelerating. The problems are worsening. It puts pressure on the CPRA to ensure, as Haase explained, “that we are getting the most bang for our buck.”

But, without enough money to pay for even half of the projects included in the current Master Plan, some very tough choices lie ahead. Which communities get protected? Which do not? All of this will play out in the coming years and decades in the state where place is considered the most important.


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