New plan to protect Louisiana’s coast begins months-long path to legislative approval

By Claire Sullivan, LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE–Could the Louisiana of 2073 face less flood risk from hurricanes than it does today?

According to Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority officials, the answer could be “yes”–if their latest coastal master plan, released as a draft earlier this month, is fully implemented and predictions for more moderate environmental conditions prevail.

Officials brought the $50-billion draft plan to protect the coast before the authority’s board Wednesday in a pit stop in its months-long journey to approval from the Legislature, during which the plan will undergo public comment and revisions.

The coastal master plan is updated by the authority every six years, as required by state law. It lays out the 50-year future for Louisiana’s coast in terms of coastal land loss and flood risk–with and without its implementation.

“For a lot of us, it’s our mortality we’re looking at here,” said Guy McInnis, who represents the Breton Sound Basin on the board.

Louisiana has already lost 2,000 square miles of coastal land since the 1930s, according to Stuart Brown, a coastal resources scientist assistant administrator at the authority.

Projects laid out in the coastal master plan aim to restore that land and protect it from further erosion.  The draft’s funding request is evenly divided between restoration projects, like marsh creation and barrier island restoration, and risk reduction projects, such as improved levees and elevating homes.

The plan makes predictions for the coast in consideration of lower and higher environmental scenarios. But these scenarios are not equally likely, according to authority chairman Kyle R. “Chip” Kline Jr.

“The more realistic scenario of what the science is actually projecting is the lower scenario,” Kline said. But the coastal master plan prepares for the possibility, though less likely, Kline says, of a high-end scenario with more severe sea level rise and more intense storms.

Though the plan is only a draft and subject to change over the spring, Kline said, board members widely commended the document and its readability.

“It’s been an outstanding process to follow,” said Dwayne Bourgeois, who represents the Terrebonne Basin on the board. Bourgeois said he participated in one of the regional work groups implemented by the authority to create a more regionally focused plan.

Some of the people most at risk of coastal land loss have been absent from authority meetings in the past, Brown said. But he said he has seen new faces in recent months in focusing on more community engagement work.

And as Louisiana looks forward to having hundreds of millions of dollars more to spend in the next legislative session than originally expected, the authority’s projects could be on the list of beneficiaries. The governor and legislators have been kind to the coastal planning effort in the past, Kline said.

The public comment period on the draft plan ends March 25. Coastal officials will return to the board in April to present the final plan before submitting it to the Legislature.

The Legislature does not approve the entire budget of the coastal plan but offers funding on a project-by-project basis.

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