Archive for Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council


NEWS RELEASE: Conservation Groups Release Restoration Solutions for Mississippi River Delta

December 9, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in BP Oil Disaster, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Media Resources, Reports, Restoration Projects

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, evancleve@edf.org
Lauren Bourg, National Audubon Society, 225.776.9838, lbourg@audubon.org

Conservation Groups Release Restoration Solutions for Mississippi River Delta
New report recommends a series of science-based restoration efforts to benefit coastal Louisiana

(NEW ORLEANS – December 9, 2014) Today, leading national and local conservation groups released a report outlining 19 priority projects for restoring the Mississippi River Delta following the 2010 Gulf oil disaster.

Restoring the Mississippi River Delta for People and Wildlife: Recommended Projects and Priorities was jointly authored by conservation groups working together on Mississippi River Delta restoration – Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana – and describes a suite of restoration projects that would collectively reverse wetlands loss and help protect New Orleans and other coastal communities from storms. The project recommendations include sediment diversions, freshwater diversions, marsh creation, barrier island reconstruction, ridge restoration, shoreline protection and hydrological modifications. The proposed project solutions can work in tandem to not only build but also sustain new wetlands along Louisiana’s coast.

The report is aimed at informing a series of decisions that will be ultimately made for funds flowing from the Gulf oil disaster, including those to be made by Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (Council). The federal-state Council is tasked with implementing a comprehensive restoration plan to include a list of projects prioritized for their impact on the Gulf ecosystem. The Council recently released a list of projects and programs proposed for funding with oil spill penalty money.

“The Mississippi River Delta was ground zero for the Gulf oil disaster,” said David Muth, National Wildlife Federation’s director of Gulf restoration. “These project recommendations, if selected and implemented efficiently, could begin in earnest the wholesale restoration of one of the most ecologically and economically important areas in the entire country. The health of the Mississippi River Delta is a cornerstone for the health of the entire Gulf Coast. ”

“We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get this right and start real restoration along the Gulf Coast,” said Doug Meffert, executive director and vice president of Audubon Louisiana. “Our recommendations present a full suite of restoration solutions that work in concert, providing complementary benefits and sustaining one other. We hope the Council will select restoration projects like these, which are scientifically shown to provide the maximum benefit to the entire Gulf ecosystem.”

“By combining different types of projects in the same geographic area – for example, sediment diversions, marsh creation and barrier island restoration – we can build new land quickly and sustain it for the long term,” said Natalie Peyronnin, director of Science Policy for Environmental Defense Fund’s Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program. “This comprehensive approach to restoration is much more effective than using a band-aid approach. We must get restoration right – and get it started now – for the communities, wildlife and economies of the Gulf.”

“The oil spill affected wildlife and ecosystems across the Gulf Coast, and we need to make smart decisions about how to use this money to improve the health of the entire system,” said Muth. “We owe it to future generations to determine where this money can have the greatest impact and to focus our efforts there.”

The oil disaster sent roughly 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Louisiana’s coastline received the largest amount of oil and was suffering one of the fastest rates of wetlands loss in the world even prior to the spill. BP and the other companies responsible will ultimately pay billions of dollars in penalties and punitive damages, much of which will be allocated to the Gulf states for restoration.

For a full description of the 19 projects, visit http://www.mississippiriverdelta.org/files/2014/12/Restoring-the-Mississippi-River-Delta-for-People-and-Wildlife.pdf

For a full description of the 19 projects, push here.

###

Please contact Emily Guidry Schatzel, schatzele@nwf.org, for a recording of the telepress conference.

The Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition is working to protect people, wildlife and jobs by reconnecting the river with its wetlands. As our region faces the crisis of threatening land loss, we offer science-based solutions through a comprehensive approach to restoration. Composed of conservation, policy, science and outreach experts from Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, we are located in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; and around the United States. A map of the projects and descriptions are available for download at www.mississippiriverdelta.org/map.

1 Comment

West Maurepas Freshwater Diversion Project

December 5, 2014 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), RESTORE Act, Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)

Louisiana recently proposed 5 projects to be funded by the initial round of funding from the RESTORE Act.  The West Maurepas Freshwater Diversion project’s objective, also known as the Mississippi River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp project, is to restore and enhance the health and sustainability of the Maurepas Swamp through the reintroduction of season Mississippi River inflow. Here’s what we wrote to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, in support of the West Maurepas Freshwater Diversion project:

Dear Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority members,

The undersigned groups appreciate the opportunity to share our supporting comments on the River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project, submitted by the State of Louisiana for RESTORE Council consideration for the first Funded Priorities List of the RESTORE Pot 2 Council-selected projects.

We represent a coalition of conservation interests that have worked for decades to restore a healthy Gulf of Mexico ecosystem – starting with prompt restoration of the Mississippi River Delta – reconnecting the Mississippi River to its delta to protect communities, environment, and economies. Our groups continue to recommend urgent action on projects that will reduce land loss and restore wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta through comprehensive restoration actions that have the potential to provide multiple benefits and services over the long term to the entire Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the necessary restoration actions to be undertaken in Louisiana are already fully authorized under the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2007, were unanimously approved by the Louisiana legislature in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, enjoy broad public support, and have been vetted by scientists and lawmakers for many years.

Such is the case with the River Reintroduction into the Maurepas Swamp Project.

The River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project has long been discussed as an important coastal restoration project: it was featured as a key restoration project in the 1998 “Coast 2050” plan, was further developed in the Coastal Wetlands Planning Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) program with EPA as its sponsor, was included in the LCA (Louisiana Coastal Area) Study (WRDA 2007) and the Louisiana 2007 Coastal Master Plan, and is currently included in Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan (named the “West Maurepas Diversion”).

This project would benefit the western Maurepas swamps, the landbridge between Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain and the LaBranche wetlands. In addition, this project, in conjunction with the Central Wetlands diversions, will influence the Biloxi Marsh area.

Dominated by bald cypress and water tupelo trees, this swamp complex is one of the largest forested wetlands in the nation. Levees constructed along the river and the closure of Bayou Manchac have isolated the area from spring floods and the vital fresh water, nutrients and sediments that once enhanced the swamp. This isolation has led to a decrease in swamp elevation, that coupled with rising salinities throughout the Pontchartrain Basin have left the swamp in a state of rapid decline – trees are dying and young trees are not regenerating. The River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project will reconnect the swamps to the river, preventing further loss and the conversion to open water, as well as helping to temper rising salinities throughout the entire Pontchartrain Basin.

Applying funds to the project now, toward completion of the remaining engineering, design, and permitting, will finally take the River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project to a construction-ready status. And, given its development history, this project would seem a perfect candidate for CPRA to conduct in collaboration with EPA, with some assistance from Corps of Engineers regulatory and restoration teams.

In conclusion, the 2012 Coastal Master Plan data demonstrated that the swamp could be completely lost in a mere two decades. Due to the urgency of getting this project constructed and operating, the below signatories commend Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority for submitting, and we urge the RESTORE Council to select this project for funding.

No Comments

Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Restoration Project

| Posted by lbourg in Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Restoration Projects, RESTORE Act, Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)

Louisiana recently proposed 5 projects to be funded by the initial round of funding from the RESTORE Act.  The Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Restoration  project, also known as the Biloxi Marsh Living Shoreline project, will construct an oyster barrier reef along the southern and eastern shores of the Biloxi Marsh. This reef will provide a natural protective barrier to reduce the damaging effects of storm surges and provide wave attenuation. Here’s what we wrote to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, in support of the Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Restoration project:

Dear Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority members,

The undersigned groups appreciate this opportunity to share our collective supporting comments on the Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Project, submitted by the State of Louisiana for RESTORE Council consideration for the first Funded Priorities List of the RESTORE Pot 2 Council-selected projects.

We represent a coalition of conservation interests that have worked for decades to restore a healthy Gulf of Mexico ecosystem – starting with prompt restoration of the Mississippi River Delta – reconnecting the Mississippi River to its delta to protect communities, environment, and economies. Our groups continue to recommend urgent action on projects that will reduce land loss and restore wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta through comprehensive restoration actions that have the potential to provide multiple benefits and services over the long term to the entire Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the necessary restoration actions to be undertaken in Louisiana are already fully authorized under the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2007, were unanimously approved by the Louisiana legislature in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, enjoy broad public support, and have been vetted by scientists and lawmakers for many years. In the case of the Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Project, it has a completed Programmatic EIS and a signed Chief’s Report from the Corps of Engineers.

The Biloxi Marsh platform is relatively stable and enjoys a fairly low rate of subsidence; however, erosion on the marsh edge by wave action has resulted in significant loss of this wetlands habitat over time. Construction of an oyster barrier reef along the southern and eastern shores of the Biloxi Marsh will provide a natural protective barrier to reduce the damaging effects of storm surges and provide wave attenuation. In addition to providing protection against waves, oyster reefs also provide a myriad of ecosystem services including water quality enhancement and benefits to fish populations in both Breton Sound and Mississippi Sound.

Reestablishment of vertical oyster reefs in Biloxi Marsh, in conjunction with the reintroduction of small amounts of river water (River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp, Central Wetlands diversions), will help slow marsh deterioration. Additionally, once established, unlike rock and other materials, these reefs are naturally self-maintaining.

Our groups support the development of the Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Project—and the concept of living shorelines in general—and commend the selection of this important “line of defense” by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. We look forward to the construction of this project within the next few years as funding becomes available.

No Comments

Golden Triangle Marsh Creation Project

December 4, 2014 | Posted by lbourg in Community Resiliency, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, Restoration Projects, Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)

Louisiana recently proposed 5 projects to be funded by the initial round of funding from the RESTORE Act.  The Golden Triangle Marsh Creation  project, located in the Pontchartrain-Maurepas Basin, is designed to restore and protect wetland, fish, and wildlife habitat and help maintain landscape integrity and enhance community resilience.  Here’s what we wrote to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, in support of the Golden Triangle Marsh Creation project:

Dear Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority members,

The undersigned groups appreciate this opportunity to share our collective supporting comments on the Golden Triangle Marsh Creation Project, submitted by the State of Louisiana for RESTORE Council consideration for the first Funded Priorities List of the RESTORE Pot 2 Council-selected projects.

We represent a coalition of conservation interests that have worked for decades to restore a healthy Gulf of Mexico ecosystem – starting with prompt restoration of the Mississippi River Delta – reconnecting the Mississippi River to its delta to protect communities, environment, and economies. Our groups continue to recommend urgent action on projects that will reduce land loss and restore wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta through comprehensive restoration actions that have the potential to provide multiple benefits and services over the long term to the entire Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the necessary restoration actions to be undertaken in Louisiana are already fully authorized under the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2007, were unanimously approved by the Louisiana legislature in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, enjoy broad public support, and have been vetted by scientists and lawmakers for many years.

The Golden Triangle Marsh Creation Project, located near the confluence of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet shipping channel and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, is in an area badly damaged by the saltwater intrusion and erosion that followed the dredging of the MRGO. The restored marsh will work with a nearby shoreline protection and marsh creation funded by the Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) to help buffer the newly constructed IHNC Surge Barrier, which is essential to the Greater New Orleans’ flood protection, and will also provide important estuarine habitat for Lake Borgne and Mississippi Sound. The project has undergone technical analysis completed by the Corps and the State of Louisiana through the MRGO Ecosystem Restoration Plan authorized in WRDA 2007. The project has a signed Chief’s Report and a completed Programmatic EIS.

The project is important not only for its obvious marsh creation benefits, but also for the citizens of the area who use the area located so close to the city of New Orleans. This project enjoys much public support and will increase the resilience of surrounding communities. We support the continued development of the Golden Triangle Marsh Creation Project and thank the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority for submitting it to the RESTORE Council.

 

No Comments

West Grand Terre Beach Nourishment & Stabilization Project

December 3, 2014 | Posted by lbourg in Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Restoration Projects, RESTORE Act

“Louisiana recently proposed five projects to be funded by the initial round of funding from the RESTORE ActWest Grand Terre Beach Nourishment & Stabilization Project is part of the larger “Barataria Pass to Sandy Point Barrier Island Restoration,” a project we believe is critical to the Louisiana coast and to the whole Gulf Coast. Here’s what we wrote to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, in support of the West Grand Terre project:”

Dear Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority members,

The undersigned groups appreciate this opportunity to share our collective supporting comments on the West Grand Terre Beach Nourishment and Stabilization Project, submitted by the State of Louisiana for RESTORE Council consideration for the first Funded Priorities List of the RESTORE Pot 2 Council-selected projects.

We represent a coalition of conservation interests that have worked for decades to restore a healthy Gulf of Mexico ecosystem – starting with prompt restoration of the Mississippi River Delta – reconnecting the Mississippi River to its delta to protect communities, environment, and economies. Our groups continue to recommend urgent action on projects that will reduce land loss and restore wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta through comprehensive restoration actions that have the potential to provide multiple benefits and services over the long term to the entire Gulf of Mexico.

West Grand Terre Barrier Island is part of the barrier island chain separating the productive and economically important Barataria Bay estuary from the Gulf of Mexico. These islands provide habitat for migratory birds, wildlife, and fish. They also serve as the first line of defense in protecting nearby coastal communities from devastating storm surge as well as protecting the interior coastal habitats of Barataria Bay, which includes bottomland hardwood forests, cypress swamps, marshes ranging from fresh to saltwater, from high energy waves and saltwater intrusion. However, increasing tidal forces caused by ever-growing interior bays, canals, navigation channels, subsidence, wave action and sea level rise have all attributed to the erosion and retreat of these barrier islands. This erosion has led to loss of the island and back marsh habitats and threatened the entire interior Barataria Bay estuarine ecosystem.

The West Grand Terre Beach Nourishment and Marsh Stabilization Project provides the Council with an opportunity to fund one project within a larger effort to restore the Barataria Basin Barrier Shoreline. Other reaches of the shoreline have been or will be funded through state surplus funds, the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA), Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). Together these individual projects will re-establish 2 barrier shorelines critical for protecting nearby communities, will restore important migratory and shore bird habitat and will improve the ecosystem function of the barrier island system, preventing the wholesale loss of the lower Barataria Bay estuary.

Our groups support the development of the West Grand Terre Beach Nourishment and Marsh Stabilization Project. We commend the selection of this important segment of the Barataria Bay Barrier Shoreline by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. We look forward to the construction of this project within the next few years as funding becomes available.

 

No Comments

RESTORE Council Staff Brave the Cold to visit the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle

November 20, 2014 | Posted by lbourg in Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Mississippi River Gulf Outlet

By Samantha Carter, Restore the Mississippi River Delta, National Wildlife Federation

Wind.  Rain.  Record-setting lows.  None of that stopped community members and conservation groups from welcoming members of a federal restoration council to a potential project site in the Lower Ninth Ward last Thursday morning.  Members of the MRGO Must Go Coalition met with Executive Director Justin Ehrenwerth and Environmental Compliance Director John Ettinger of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council atphoto 4 the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle platform in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward.  Joined by representatives from the US Army Corps of Engineers and the City of New Orleans Office of Coastal and Environmental Affairs, we had a robust discussion about the future of restoration in the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) ecosystem area.

The platform at the end of Caffin Avenue overlooks a 400 acre “ghost” swamp, a remnant of a dense freshwater cypress tupelo forest that existed in the city boundaries until roughly 50 years ago.  Saltwater intrusion, caused by the construction of the MRGO in the 1960s, killed the cypress swamp in the Lower 9th Ward and destroyed tens of thousands of acres of wetlands that once protected the Greater New Orleans area. The MRGO channel and the loss of the surrounding wetlands are attributed to the catastrophic flooding that occurred in the Lower Ninth Ward and surrounding communities during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle provides a unique opportunity for highly visible coastal restoration work. Only five miles from the French Quarter, the platform already attracts Orleans Parish locals and tourists alike who can learn about the history of the swamp and see an example of the coastal land loss problems that extend throughout southern Louisiana. If the project is funded and constructed, reintroducing Mississippi River sediment and freshwater into the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle could return the conditions in the area to a place where cypress swamp photo 2can once again survive. In addition to restoring ecology and increasing quality of life for residents, restoration work in this location would allow the public easy access to see the State’s Coastal Master Plan in action and potentially RESTORE Act restoration funds at work.

Discussions with the MRGO coalition and the RESTORE Council staff focused on this possibility and the process by which restoration projects are going to be chosen.  The frigid weather kept the site visit short, but conversations continued in the warmth of the Greater Little Zion Baptist Church just a few minutes away. The RESTORE Council stressed the importance of coordination between different funding streams and leveraging completed work, such the programmatic EIS already done by the US Army Corps of Engineers for the MRGO ecosystem restoration area.  MRGO Must Go coalition members shared their passion and vision for restoration and why they are engaged in the effort to see the MRGO ecosystem restored.  There are already plans to revisit the platform together on a sunnier day and take a flight over the MRGO ecosystem.

Interested in visiting the platform and learning more?  Check out http://www.restorethebayou.org/.

 

 

 

No Comments

Public meetings in Louisiana to solicit feedback on RESTORE Council funding distribution

August 29, 2014 | Posted by Ryan Rastegar in Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Meetings/Events, RESTORE Act

The green portion refers to the 30% that the RESTORE Council will help distribute.

The State of Louisiana is hosting three meetings in September to increase public awareness around the funding distribution of the RESTORE Act and to request additional feedback and ideas from the public. The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, also known as the RESTORE Council, is responsible for distributing 30% of the money directed to the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund. Members of the public are invited to submit formal proposals for projects or programs for funding consideration, to voice support for existing projects, or to provide general feedback on priorities for Gulf restoration at these meetings.

Projects proposed for funding through the Council-selected component must ultimately be submitted by members of the RESTORE Council. Representatives from federal agencies on the RESTORE Council and members of the RESTORE Council staff have been invited to join the State of Louisiana in receiving public input and project ideas. Federal agencies have also been invited to participate in the open house portion of the first two meetings so that members of the public can learn more about opportunities to engage with those agencies.

We invite you to attend one of the following meetings to learn about the process and to discuss your ideas:

Thursday, September 4, 2014 
University of New Orleans Homer Hitt Alumni Center
2000 Lakeshore Drive
New Orleans, LA
5:30 p.m. Open House
6:00 p.m. Formal Meeting (brief background presentation by State of Louisiana followed by listening session

Thursday, September 11, 2014
Houma Municipal Auditorium
880 Verret Street
Houma, LA
5:30 p.m. Open House
6:00 p.m. Formal Meeting (brief background presentation by State of Louisiana followed by listening session)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Board Meeting
SEED Center
Willis Noland Room
4310 Ryan Street, 2nd Floor
Lake Charles, LA
9:30 a.m. (dedicated public comment period)

 Public input may also be submitted by phone, mail, or by email at the information below:

Mail: Attn: Jenny Kurz, CPRA, P.O. Box 44027, Baton Rouge, LA, 70804
Phone: Meg Bankston: (225) 342-4844
Email: coastal@la.gov

More information about the project submittal process can be found here.

No Comments

Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition submits comments on proposed RESTORE Act Treasury regulations

November 19, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, BP Oil Disaster, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, RESTORE Act

By Whit Remer and Elizabeth Weiner, Environmental Defense Fund

Earlier this month, the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition submitted public comments to the U.S. Department of Treasury (Treasury) on a proposed rule governing disbursements from the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Trust Fund. The Trust Fund was established by the RESTORE Act, enacted in 2012, and is funded by 80 percent of the civil Clean Water Act penalties that have been, and will be, paid by the parties responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The Act mandates that the Trust Fund be housed within and managed by Treasury and requires that Treasury propose and finalize a rule, with input from the public, regarding its management protocols. This is common practice for federal trust fund management. It is important because funding cannot be disbursed from the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Trust Fund for urgently needed Gulf restoration until the rule promulgation process is complete.

Surveying oil sargassum. NOAA.

Surveying oil sargassum during the 2010 Gulf oil disaster. Creidt: NOAA.

Multiple federal rules, developed in similar manners, are necessary to implement the RESTORE Act. They may overlap with other implementation documents and reiterate statutory language. We believe that when overlap exists, the entities involved should ensure as much consistently and clarity as possible. For example, the RESTORE Act language and the Final Initial Comprehensive Plan direct the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council’s funding allocation exclusively to ecosystem restoration projects. Our comments suggested that the language and instruction in the final Treasury rule could more clearly reflect that specific direction from Congress and the Council.

As part of its management role, Treasury must also develop a compliance and auditing program – compliance on the front end to verify that grant applications comply with statutory requirements, and auditing on the back end to ensure that applicants did what they said they would do with the funds. Within Treasury, the Treasury RESTORE program will handle some aspects of this, and Treasury Inspector General will handle others. Because of the RESTORE Act’s unique structure with different funding components, the Council also has compliance and auditing authorities. Our comments urged Treasury to more clearly delineate the compliance and auditing roles of each of these federal entities so as to minimize delays and duplication and maximize the amount of funding that can be spent directly on restoration efforts.

Louisiana's coastal crisis. CPRA.

Louisiana predicted land loss (red) and land gain (green) over the next 50 years. Credit: Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Our comments also encouraged Treasury to consider adopting Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan as the RESTORE Act’s mandatory state expenditure plan. To receive funds from the Spill Impact Component, states must submit a multi-year expenditure plan that describes each program, project and activity for which the state seeks funding. Due to Louisiana’s substantial land loss crisis, the state has already developed a science-based planning process. The most recent product of that process is the 2012 Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. The State of Louisiana has dedicated, by state law, all funds from the RESTORE Act to its constitutionally protected Coastal Restoration and Protection Fund to be spent solely on projects in this plan. Recognizing that projects in the master plan still have to be sequenced for the purpose of serving as a RESTORE multi-year plan, we have advocated that the Plan meets, and often exceeds, the requirements of the State Expenditure Plan. If Treasury accepts the master plan process as compliant with the process set forth in the rule, the State of Louisiana will be ready to apply for RESTORE funds and utilize grant dollars more quickly.

Over the next few weeks, Treasury will read and consider comments submitted by the public as they prepare the final rule for the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Fund. The Council will also have to promulgate a rule regarding the RESTORE Act Spill Impact Component.

No Comments

Treasury releases RESTORE Act regulations, restoration process advances

September 25, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in BP Oil Disaster, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, RESTORE Act

By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund

On September 6, the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) proposed draft regulations for disbursing funds under the RESTORE Act. Treasury is responsible for developing compliance measures, an auditing process and guidelines for grant distribution under the law. The release of the regulations enables the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council to advance some of its work, and the final regulations will outline the process for Gulf Coast states to acquire their RESTORE Act allocations.

Under the RESTORE Act, 80 percent of Clean Water Act civil fines resulting from the 2010 oil spill will be sent back to the Gulf Coast states to use for restoration. The money is divided into three substantial components and two smaller ones: 35 percent equally divided to the five Gulf Coast states, 30 percent for ecosystem restoration overseen by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council and 30 percent divided to the states according to an oil spill impact formula. Of the remaining 5 percent, 2.5 percent is for a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration, Science, Observation, Monitoring and Technology Program, and 2.5 percent will be distributed evenly between the Gulf Coast states for “Centers of Excellence” Research grants.

For the first substantial component, known as the Direct Component, Treasury will grant money directly to the five Gulf Coast states. Per the draft regulations, each state must submit a detailed multi-year plan describing the projects and programs it wants to implement. The RESTORE Act permits nine eligible activities for spending, including restoration and protection of natural resources, coastal flood protection and workforce development. The regulations explain that Treasury’s role for the Direct Component is focused fiscal compliance and not to determine which projects and programs will best restore the Gulf Coast region.

For the second and third components, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council will play a more proactive, involved role in determining which restoration projects and programs will best restore the Gulf Coast region and should subsequently receive funding. The Council oversees 60 percent of the restoration funds, with direct control over 30 percent to implement its Initial Comprehensive Plan, and it plays a coordinating role with the states over the other 30 percent. The Treasury regulations do not provide many additional details on how the Council should advance the Comprehensive Plan, and defers to the Council to develop its own guidelines and rules. Treasury also acknowledges the Council must create and implement its own compliance program to guide the remaining 30 percent with the states under the spill impact formula, which the Treasury regulations will supplement.

There is a 60-day public comment period to respond to the Treasury regulations, which can be submitted online here: http://www.treasury.gov/connect/blog/Pages/Treasury-Issues-Proposed-RESTORE-Act-Regulation,-Opens-60-Day-Comment-Period.aspx.

We are encouraged by the release of the Treasury regulations and now look the Restoration Council to develop a project list.

No Comments

Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council approves Initial Comprehensive Plan

September 6, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, BP Oil Disaster, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Meetings/Events, RESTORE Act, Science

By Estelle Robichaux, Environmental Defense Fund

Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council meeting in New Orleans.

Last week, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council held a public meeting in New Orleans to vote on its Initial Comprehensive Plan: Restoring the Gulf Coast’s Ecosystem and Economy. The RESTORE Act, signed into law in July 2012, established the Council and tasked it with, among other duties, creating a long-term ecosystem restoration plan for the Gulf Coast region in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

In his opening remarks, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (Council member and host of the meeting) spoke of the many natural and human-caused disasters that have afflicted Louisiana in recent years: Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike and Isaac; and, of course, the BP oil disaster.

Jindal highlighted the need to move restoration projects forward and not let the bureaucratic process delay implementation of projects that have already been sufficiently vetted. Jindal stated he had “directed state officials to commit 100 percent of Louisiana’s RESTORE Act funding to ecosystem restoration and community resilience projects associated with our Master Plan.” While the governor acknowledged Transocean for stepping up by paying their Clean Water Act fines, he called on BP to stop spending millions of dollars in public relations, claiming that they have spent more money on television commercials than on actual restoration, while there are still 200 miles of oiled shoreline along the Gulf Coast.

David Muth, National Wildlife Federation

The chair of the Council, newly appointed Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, spoke following Jindal and stated, “the Gulf Region is part of who we are as Americans” and the Council wants “the world to see the Gulf Coast as a wonderful place to visit, work, play, and live.” Although the Comprehensive Plan in its current iteration is still very general, the Secretary took this opportunity to affirm that science will be integral in the decision-making process. She emphasized that the Council was committed to moving forward with the planning and restoration process, despite uncertainties about the ultimate amount or timing of available funds. The desire for momentum was underscored by the Council’s stated goal to begin selecting and funding projects within the next 12 months.

Justin Ehrenwerth, Executive Director of the Council, presented an overview of the Plan and discussed next steps before the Council unanimously voted to pass the Initial Comprehensive Plan and accompanying documents, including the Programmatic Environmental Assessment, Finding of No Significant Impact and Response to Public Comments. Mimi Drew (Chair of the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustee Council), Thomas Kelsch (Vice President of National Fish & Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund) and Russ Beard (Acting Director of the RESTORE Act Science Program) gave overviews of their respective programs and how they anticipate coordinating with the Council and the Comprehensive Plan as it moves forward.

Doug Meffert, National Audubon Society

More than 50 people spoke during the meeting’s public comment portion, which was notably held after the Council had already voted to accept the plan. Many residents of Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states traveled to New Orleans to have their voices heard. Most of them, having watched the natural areas around their lifelong homes degrade in recent years, encouraged, supported and even pleaded with the Council to move forward urgently with Gulf Coast restoration. In the words of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign’s own David Muth: “Delay is the enemy.”

Some individuals tried to further impress upon the Council the damage that had been done to the Gulf ecosystem, pointing to evidence of the continued presence of oil slicks and suspicious absence of wildlife around Mississippi Canyon block 252, where the Deepwater Horizon oil platform was located. Several staff members and experts from our Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign gave statements to the Council, reminding them that Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan is “not a perfect plan, but it is absolutely the best approach to coastal restoration that has been done.”

Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan was developed using a science-based process and examines both present-day and likely-future conditions of the coast. The Master Plan provides a model for how restoration should be addressed Gulf-wide, and the Council should work with Louisiana to prioritize restoration projects set forth in the state’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan.

Steve Cochran, Environmental Defense Fund

One of the most passionate speakers, who created the most poignant moment during the almost four-hour-long meeting, was 10-year-old Sean Turner. Sean, the youngest Conservation Pro Staff member of Vanishing Paradise, spoke with conviction about saving coastal Louisiana. “I want to save the coast,” said Sean. “I go fishing. I go hunting. That’s why I care. I want to stay here because Louisiana is Sportsman’s Paradise.” You can watch a video of Sean giving his comments here.

The next crucial step for the Council will be selecting projects that are consistent with the restoration priorities criteria defined in the RESTORE Act and will benefit and restore Gulf Coast ecosystems. The RESTORE Act requires that these projects be designed, selected, prioritized, and implemented using the best available science.

No Comments