America's WETLAND Foundation and Louisiana Coastal Protection & Restoration Authority Call 2017 Coastal Master Plan Best Prospect for Saving Coast
Urging citizens, government leaders, businesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to recognize a continuous storm destroying Louisiana's coast, King Milling, chair of America's WETLAND Foundation (AWF), opened a summit on the national significance of Louisiana's coastal master plan today. Ticking off a list of threatened environmental, navigation, energy and transportation assets housed in Louisiana's wetlands, Milling said, "The lower Mississippi will be threatened by future storms that will materially impact international trade and commerce, which has been the cornerstone of wealth and community vitality from Arkansas to Minnesota.These conditions constitute the very definition of emergency."
The summit followed two leadership roundtables convened by AWF and the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) held this past fall where topics surrounding Louisiana's Coastal Master Plan were the focus of discussions aimed at making the master plan operational and adequately funded. "If we do not pursue the mandates in the plan and continue the implementation of the planning process, the result will be a catastrophe, not just for Louisiana but for much of the nation as well. Without that effort, towns and communities across the delta are at risk, and close to two-million people will be uprooted," Milling said.
The summit drew panels of well-known coastal leaders who have been advocating for wetlands restoration for more than a decade. Governor John Bel Edwards told the assembly that securing passage by the legislature of the 2017 Master Plan was essential. "I want you to own this plan, I need you to help me build this plan," Governor Edwards said, "This is not just CPRA's plan or my plan. This is Louisiana's plan - the best set of projects and programs to build land and reduce the risk of storm surge flooding to protect and secure our state, our citizens, and our resources. We know this plan does not do everything for everyone but does accept the reality that we don't have unlimited dollars to do what we need to do. This plan does identify the best projects that can make the biggest impact."
Governor Edwards was followed by former Governor Kathleen Blanco, noting the progress that has been made since her tenure in office. "Speaking with one voice was so important when we were creating the CPRA and I am so proud to see how effective it has become. When dollars come from the federal government and are spent correctly, we have a better chance of getting a greater Federal commitment in the future. If we can get that commitment, we will be able to make even greater strides," Blanco said.
Johnny Bradberry, Chair of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), said, "The master plan is based on outstanding science and an enormous amount of work and review. It provides the foundation upon which everything else is built - implementation, results, and our ability to finance it. We have a real sense of urgency and are trying to establish a process to address it."
A review of the 2017 Coastal Master Plan CPRA chief of planning, Bren Haase, led to discussions as to why the plan was of national significance, how Louisiana has become a bellwether for discovering restoration solutions as coastal states face sea level rise, and what rationales can bring in the funds needed to sustain the values of Louisiana's coast before the loss of land makes that insurmountable.
Former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, who spent years in Congress working toward passage of offshore revenue sharing said, "Efforts are underway in Congress to expand the use of offshore royalties for both Gulf restoration and other environmental issues nationwide." Landrieu also noted that it was time for Americans to look forward and realize the impact that Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta have on their daily lives, saying, "Louisiana has not lost land, America has lost land."
Tanner Johnson, National Fish & Wildlife Foundation director, cited Louisiana's master plan as our "coastal constitution, the high bar, beyond reproach," in discussing why Louisiana's planning is appreciated as a national model.
Former Federal Oil Spill Commissioner Don Boesch suggested that the reason America will support restoring the region is the Mississippi River, which impacts a majority of the nation.
This notion was echoed by Louisiana Sea Grant director Robert Twilley, "How we put rivers to work is critical. But we need to also work on how to put deltas to work and keeping the two systems connected. Just think of the wealth we could create by putting our deltas around the world to work."
"All the Corps can do is uphold the laws they have been charged with," said Colonel Michael M. Clancy, New Orleans District Commander, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "But the coastal loss in Louisiana is a compelling reason to try to tweak law."
Anthony Simmons, CEO of McIlhenny Company, makers of Tabasco, encouraged private land owners to organize, citing the Rainey Conservation Alliance, which now manages more than 200,000 acres of marsh. "Avery Island has almost no land between the island and the Gulf and we do all we can to protect the marsh and enhance it," said Simmons.
A media panel of journalists including Mark Schleifstein of NOLA.com, Bob Marshall of The Lens, John Snell of Fox8 New Orleans and former Advocate reporter Amy Wold discussed covering news coming out of the new master plan. "Sea level rise is the big story," said Wold, who is now employed by The Water Institute of the Gulf. "The non-structural aspects - elevation of homes and relocation of people will be the news in the next decade. People who live in places they thought were not a risk, are now finding they are."
During discussion of the rationale for funding America's coasts, Adam Davis, of Ecosystem Investment Partners, said, "The notion of performance-based contracting is for the private contractor to take on the risk. He gets paid only after completing the work to government standards and this will be a viable practice for years into the future. The main role of the private sector is to deliver restoration effectively." He added, "It is possible for the private sector to triple the amount of acreage called for in the master plan. We must strive to accelerate the rate of restoration."
Mark Davis, Director of the Institute on Water Resources and Policy at Tulane University, said, "This master plan says there are things we can do and that we're committed to do them but we are going to have to pay for them. If we're going to make this work, it will take a collective effort of diverse voices. Louisiana is going to continue to share the tragedy spotlight with other areas but the work we are doing in Louisiana can help others in other parts of America's coast experiencing sea level rise and, in some places, subsidence. The principal benefit of engaging the private sector is to frontload the cost, which makes early construction cheaper."
The 2017 Coastal Master Plan goes before the Louisiana legislature this April for approval. It outlines the process for the largest effort of its kind in the nation and is mandated by law to be revised every five years to take into consideration the dynamics of the coast and new science and technology.
This Summit was held in cooperation with National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Environmental Defense Fund, the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Louisiana OffshoreTerminal Authority and through the generous support of: Entergy, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Ducks Unlimited, and Louisiana Sea Grant.