By Maura Wood, National Wildlife Federation
The preliminary version of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force’s Gulf of Mexico Regional Ecosystem Restoration Strategy document was a key agenda item before the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) at its Oct. 19th meeting. The Task Force, established by a presidential Executive Order over a year ago, was charged with drafting a restoration and recovery strategy for the Gulf that addressed impacts from the oil spill as well as the pre-oil spill environmental degradation in the region.
Task Force Executive Director John Hankinson and Deputy Directory Bryon Griffith gave a detailed report of the strategy’s goals and supporting actions. Louisiana CPRA Chairman Garret Graves then spoke about the aspects of the strategy that are of critical importance to Louisiana. If the strategy is enacted and funded by Congress, it could serve to remove or clarify potential obstacles to coastal restoration. For instance, he pointed out that language in the report specifies that restoration be made equal in importance with navigation and flood control. Currently, the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) is mandated to focus on the latter, with little integration of the former. If adopted, he said, the strategy language could elevate ecosystem restoration priorities within the Corps.
He also referenced recommendations such as using natural river processes for water and sediment distribution—such as sediment diversions—and streamlining methods for drafting partnership agreements and launching projects—a process which currently can delay projects for months, if not years.
Finally, Graves asserted the prime importance of the strategy as an enabling factor and background prerequisite for the success of the 2012 State Master Plan. With the public comment period now closed, the Task Force is charged with writing an Implementation Plan within six months.