By Philip Russo, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign
It is hard to say no to a good two-for-one deal. At least, that’s what Louisiana’s Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority (CPRA) had in mind when they planned this week’s public meetings in South Louisiana.
At meetings in Belle Chasse (yesterday), Thibodaux (tonight) and Lake Charles (tomorrow evening), CPRA is unveiling and accepting public comments on their Draft Fiscal Year 2015 Annual Plan as well as the Gulf oil spill Draft Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) and Phase III Early Restoration Plan.
To kick off the tour, more than 100 people attended the Belle Chasse meeting last evening. CPRA’s Deputy Executive Director, Kyle Graham, began the two-hour joint meeting by presenting Louisiana’s Draft FY2015 Annual Plan. Graham described the implementation of the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan as a “50-year program, at least.” He qualified this by saying that “We live in an engineered landscape, and it’s going to be much longer than that. We know that this is a program that needs to go on for as long as we choose to live in this engineered landscape.” He outlined the multi-layered suite of restoration projects the CPRA is designing, engineering and constructing and emphasized that “we are in the middle of the largest restoration construction boom in the state’s history.” He also pointed out that the suite of coastal restoration projects will soon include sediment diversions.
Sediment diversions were a popular topic of discussion during the Draft FY15 Annual Plan public comment period. Some attendees expressed their view that diversions will bring more harm than good for fish and oyster habitats. Conversely, John Lopez of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation expressed that without the full suite of coastal restoration projects, which includes sediment diversions, “all of our livelihoods down here in South Louisiana are potentially at stake; it’s not one particular sector.”
The close of the Annual Plan public comment session transitioned right into the NRDA PEIS and Phase III Early Restoration Plan portion of the meeting. Residents were updated about various projects being funded by the $1 billion made available by BP for early NRDA restoration. Though all funds stemming from the BP oil disaster are to be split between the five Gulf Coast states, they can only be used for projects that are designed to restore or enhance recreational and ecological activity along the Gulf. In Louisiana, the main four projects featured in the presentation were barrier island restoration projects in the Caillou Lake Headlands, Chenier Ronquille, Shell Island and North Breton Island.
Though some public comments were made following the NRDA section, it lacked the intensity of the first round. Regardless, the back-to-back meeting was a great opportunity for local residents, politicians and advocates alike to participate in Louisiana’s coastal planning process.