Jeremy Alford

Southwest Louisiana gets coastal nod

by Jeremy Alford

A Senate committee approved sweeping changes to the state’s guiding coastal board Thursday, including additional membership from southwest Louisiana and a new approach to infrastructure projects. The proposed reshuffling authored by Sen. Reggie Dupre, a Democrat from Bourg, also merges several independent sections of various state agencies in an effort to streamline the planning and engineering of coastal restoration and hurricane protection projects.

Bringing such functions under the same umbrella as flood control has long been the mission of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which was created in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita to help guide recovery efforts and implement long-term strategies. In this effort, however, southwest Louisiana has played second-fiddle to the eastern shoreline, officials argue, overshadowed by the growing needs of the New Orleans region and outpaced by the unified front of the Terrebonne-Lafourche area. Few on the CPRA disagree that the root of the imbalance stems from Acadiana’s early reluctance to ban together as a region during the 1990s and join the conversation.

But that’s beginning to change. An unprecedented number of coastal projects for southwest Louisiana have been included in the state’s master plan for restoration and protection, and Dupre’s Senate Bill 367 adds another member to the CPRA from the region, bringing the total tally to two out of 18. According to the legislation, the new member will be selected by the Police Jury Association of Louisiana.

The altered board membership, though, does create an equal number, which means some decisions – how money is allocated or how projects are prioritized – could result in a tie vote. “That potentially presents a problem,” says Garrett Graves, chairman of the CPRA and the governor’s top coastal advisor.

The Senate Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved the legislation with the caveat that more changes could be coming as the measure navigates the process. Its next hearing could come as early as next week in the full Senate.