This story was originally posted on the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana's Coast Currents blog.
By Scott M. Madere, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana
From Jan. 23-25, 2012, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) of Louisiana held a series of public meetings in New Orleans, Houma and Lake Charles to receive public feedback regarding the recently-released draft of the 2012 Coastal Master Plan. The public comment period, which continues until Feb. 25, is an essential part of refining the master plan before it reaches the Louisiana legislature for approval on March 26. The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL) was present at all three public meetings and listened to hundreds of Louisiana residents express their concerns about the plan’s potential to address coastal land loss. No two venues were the same, as citizens in the three meeting locales brought up topics unique to their coastal zones.
New Orleans – More than 270 people attended the first CPRA public meeting, held at the University of New Orleans. Governmental representatives from Plaquemines, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes were on hand as well as commercial fishing interests from these and other communities near New Orleans. Many of the fishers present expressed concerns regarding the master plan’s reliance on large-scale sediment diversions from the Mississippi River to rebuild marshlands on Louisiana’s southeastern coast. In their view, these sediment diversions would introduce a volume of fresh water into the coastal zones which would be unfavorable to the commercial harvest of oysters and shrimp. Sediment diversions are a key element among the many tools available in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan for coastal restoration. The use of these diversions maximize the land-building potential of the plan and reconnect the Mississippi River with its delta.
Jefferson Parish President John Young requested that flood protection plans for Lafitte, Crown Point and Barataria be implemented on faster pace than originally planned in the 2012 master plan draft. There were also a number of non-governmental organizations present including CRCL, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Nature Conservancy of Louisiana, Gulf Restoration Network and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation which expressed support for the processes and effort involved in creating the 2012 Coastal Master Plan.
Houma – The Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center played host to more than 270 attendees to CPRA’s second public meeting about the 2012 Coastal Master Plan. The Houma meeting’s comments were centered primarily on requests for more restoration projects on the eastern side of Terrebonne Parish, which includes Pointe aux Chenes, Isle de Jean Charles and other communities. Residents of these areas and representatives of the United Houma Nation and other Native American groups appealed to the CPRA representatives, asking for the inclusion of their communities in plans for restoration.
The 2012 master plan does feature restoration and protection projects in Terrebonne Parish. There is enhanced levee protection for Houma and highly-populated areas in the center of the parish, restoration for Timbalier Island, Isle Dernieres and other barrier islands, and marsh restoration in the form of a sediment diversion from the Atchafalaya River in western Terrebonne Parish.
The position of residents in the eastern part of the parish is that western Terrebonne is either uninhabited or very lightly populated, and the money spent restoring the marsh there should be moved to protect communities in the east.
Lake Charles – More than 150 people braved heavy thunderstorms to attend the third and final CPRA public meeting on the master plan, and their voice was fairly united in seeking shoreline protection for Cameron Parish in the form of rock barriers.
CPRA has a number of marsh protection projects slated in the Cameron/Calcasieu area, including new proposed salinity control structures. The idea is to build the wetlands around Lake Charles and Cameron to bolster its risk reduction capacity with regard to hurricanes and floods. A long-term solution in the master plan for flood protection in Lake Charles includes a significant levee build within the next 50 years as well.
Cameron Parish residents and their supporters in Calcasieu are asking for a more direct line of defense by placing breakwater barriers on the Cameron shoreline. Cameron Parish governmental officials like Police Jury President Darryl Farque were very determined to make the point that they wish to see this kind of protection added to the plan.
Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach also asked CPRA to not draw political differences between Calcasieu and Cameron when considering projects, as they are “one place hydrologically” in nature.
Overall, the week saw a high degree of public interest in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, and CPRA executed three very successful consecutive days of public meetings. No opinion was turned away during these meetings, and extra time was allotted past the meeting schedule to accommodate public opinion. The public comment phase of the 2012 Coastal Master Plan is a vital step in creating the best plan possible for Louisiana and continues until Feb. 25. CRCL would like to encourage those who wish to comment on the plan to do so at CPRA’s Coastal Master Plan website: http://www.coastalmasterplan.louisiana.gov/2012-master-plan/public-comment-form/