2015 Brings Momentum for the Louisiana Coast

By Emily Guidry Schatzel, Senior Communications Manager, Mississippi River Delta Restoration, National Wildlife Federation

Louisiana’s Mississippi River Delta is a region in dire need of comprehensive restoration. We all know the harrowing statistic facing coastal Louisiana: every hour, a football field of land vanishes off the coast. According to historical averages, Louisiana loses 16 to 25 square miles per year. The rest of the Gulf, which is in many places still working to rebound economically and ecologically from the 2010 Gulf oil disaster, is also in need of projects that will advance real restoration.

Despite this, 2015 was a good year for  coastal Louisiana in many ways. We have a lot to be thankful for this year:

$20.8 billion settlement in Gulf oil spill is largest environmental settlement in U.S. history

More than five years after the start of the 2010 oil spill, the Justice Department and five Gulf States announced they reached a $20.8 billion settlement with BP. We’re thankful for the settlement and federal rules like the RESTORE Act of 2012 that ensure most of the money will be used for restoring the Gulf ecosystem. While $6 billion of the total settlement will go to economic damages across the Gulf states, the remaining more than $14 billion will go to restoring the environment – including critically injured coastal fish and wildlife habitat. In Louisiana, the Coastal Master Plan’s suite of land-building restoration projects will receive at least $4 billion. It’s not nearly enough to get the entire list of projects in the master plan done, but it’s a start, backed by real dollars that weren’t available prior to the settlement.

Restore Council’s priorities list included four of our priority projects

In August, the Gulf Coast Restoration CouncilRestore Map released their draft Initial Funded Priorities List which proposed to dedicate $139.6 million from the oil spill settlement with Transocean Deepwater Inc. to projects and programs that would provide near-term benefits to the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem. In Louisiana, this list proposed funding for four of our nineteen priority projects: Mississippi River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp, Golden Triangle Marsh Creation, Biloxi Marsh Living Shoreline and West Grand Terre Beach Nourishment and Stabilization.

Next steps for Louisiana’s first sediment diversions announced

Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) recommended advancing both the Mid Barataria and Mid Breton sediment diversion projects in the Coastal Master Plan, which will reintroduce fresh water and sediment from the Mississippi River into its surrounding wetlands and rebuild land over time. We appreciate this important step toward getting sediment diversions up and running; the urgency and severity of our collapsing delta requires that we use the most powerful tools at our disposal. Sediment diversions provide the best opportunity to restore the coast over time, preserving our communities, industries and entire way of life.

LA- 1: Huge win for protecting coastal restoration funding

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In October, Governor Jindal proposed that the CPRA Board redirect money from the Coastal Master Plan to fund the elevation of Louisiana Highway 1. Our Coalition immediately took action by vocally opposing this proposal and launching the “Protect the Funding” campaign to raise awareness and garner support to safeguard coastal dollars for restoration. With a flurry of last minute decisions, a better alternative was reached. The Board replaced the draft resolution with one directing CPRA staff to develop a prioritization process for coastal infrastructure projects that could spend up to 10% of available funds under the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA). GOMESA has already authorized such spending up to 10%, and this is an appropriate use of those dollars. We are thankful that funds dedicated for coastal restoration were kept right where they should be – not redirected to other projects.

Polls show voter support for coastal restoration

Encouraging news – a poll of likely Louisiana voters showed that nearly 94 percent of respondents valued a candidate’s commitment to protect and restore coastal Louisiana. An overwhelming majority (90 percent) said they want the next governor to ensure funds currently dedicated to coastal restoration are not spent on anything but coastal restoration, and 87 percent want the next governor to work to identify and secure additional funding for future projects identified in the state’s Coastal Master Plan.

90Across the board, the poll found tremendous statewide support for coastal restoration:

  1. 85 percent believe restoration of coastal Louisiana should be a high priority for the new governor
  2. 95 percent want the new governor to commit to move quickly and get started building coastal restoration projects
  3. 78 percent believe protecting and restoring coastal Louisiana is as important as other issues facing the state
  4. 97 percent say Louisiana’s coastal areas and wetlands are important to them personally
  5. Two-thirds (66 percent) indicate support for river diversions to build new land in Louisiana

Launched “Restore the Coast” Community Engagement Campaign

In August, our Coalition launched the “Restore the Coast” community engagement campaign to highlight the important role Louisiana’s elected officials play in coastal restoration. This multifaceted, nonpartisan education campaign encouraged Louisiana voters to sign a pledge urging leaders to: be a voice for coastal restoration, protect existing and secure future coastal restoration funding, and support Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan. Our goal was to send a clear message to our public officials: Louisianians want leaders who will prioritize coastal restoration, by keeping restoration dollars for restoration and continuing the forward progress made through the coastal master planning process.

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The “Restore the Coast” campaign included television and radio commercials, billboards, print ads, tabling at local community events, as well as interactive street activities to engage the public and encourage social sharing of this important issue facing Louisiana. Over the course of the entire “Restore the Coast” campaign, we secured over 13,500 pledges, our materials were seen by more than 1 million people online and our videos had more than 335,000 views! We are so thankful for our supporters!

Louisiana’s newly-elected governor made strong commitments

Additionally, Governor-elect John Bel Edwards recently wrote in response to handling key coastal issues while in office:

“I look forward to working with stakeholders to ensure timely funding of coastal restoration projects.

We have lost nearly 2000 square miles of coastal land mass over the last 100 years. The economic contributions of Louisiana’s coast exceed $20 billion per year. But much of this is threatened, including our fisheries, wildlife, tourism, oil and gas, and shipping and navigation industries.

We must immediately match the scale of the crisis with the response, implementing unprecedented coordination and taking three primary actions:

1. Create certainty of funding

2. Ensure the funding is spent only on coastal restoration master plan and priority of projects

3. Fully and convincingly making the case to the Congress and the Administration that coastal restoration in Louisiana is a national priority worth of funding tens of billions of dollars

The Coastal Restoration Master Plan is a living document which must be constantly revisited through the lens of new and better science.”

A voting public and a new governor showing strong commitments to coastal restoration, spending wisely and rebuilding our great Mississippi River Delta are all things to truly be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving, from all of us at the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition!

happy thanksgiving