By Claire Sullivan, LSU Manship School New Service
BATON ROUGE—The Louisiana Legislature has unanimously approved a $50 billion plan to protect and restore the state’s diminishing coast over the next 50 years.
“We’re not just throwing money at the problem,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Friday in a press conference lauding the plan that is updated by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority every six years. “We’re doing it in a way that really makes sense, that follows the science.”
Edwards called the plan the most robust coastal effort in the country and maybe the world.
The Legislature also unanimously approved the authority’s budget for the next fiscal year, which totaled an unprecedented $1.6 billion for coastal restoration and hurricane protection projects.
In a session marked by battles over the budget and cultural issues, the hefty coastal plan received no dissent from lawmakers.
“If you know anything about Louisiana politics, you know it’s unheard of to get a unanimous approval of a $50 billion plan,” said Kyle R. “Chip” Kline Jr., the authority board chairman.
That may be because in Louisiana, the coast is the issue that affects all others, Kline said. And that coast faces mounting challenges from rising seas and devastating hurricanes.
“So much of our population, so much of our industrial base and our economy is based along the coast, that not investing in coastal restoration and protection is simply not an option,” Edwards said.
But the current source of that investment, money from the BP oil spill settlement, which accounts for 80% of the coastal program’s funding, will dry up in 2032. Replacing those funds, Edwards said, will be an important task for the state government in the next few years.
Louisiana has already seen the benefits of its coastal program, the governor said. Since 2016, its projects have restored and maintained 83 miles of levees, more than 26,000 acres of coastal land and 22 miles of barrier islands, Edwards said.
Those projects have helped protect south Louisiana from the worst of storm surge during recent years’ powerful hurricanes, Edwards said. And, Kline noted during the session, all the coastal projects have withstood the impact of the storms.
Over the next year, the authority will work on 20 dredging projects that will create 15,000 acres of new land, Kline said. Dredging allows sediment and other materials from one area to be used to restore coastal land elsewhere.
The $50 billion plan dedicates its largest chunk—$19 billion—to dredging projects.
The plan also allocates $2.5 billion to programs like barrier island maintenance, shoreline protection and oyster reef restoration. It calls for $14 billion for 12 structural risk reduction projects including levees, flood gates and storm surge barriers.
Another $11.2 billion goes to nonstructural risk reduction projects, like raising and flood proofing homes and businesses. This money can also be used for “voluntary acquisition.” Though rising seas are expected to push away coastal populations around the globe, Kline said Louisiana’s future, with the full implementation of this plan, might not be so dire.
“In 50 years, Louisiana will have less flood risk than we do today if we implement every single project,” Kline said.
That means that in what Gov. Edwards called “a race against time,” Louisiana might be winning.