Delta Dispatches: The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion
On today’s show Teresa Chan & Amy Streitweiser of Environmental Law Institute (ELI) join the program to talk with Simone about ELI and the upcoming environmental impact study (EIS) on the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion. On the second half the show, Natalie Peyronnin, Director of Science Policy and Mississippi River Delta Restoration at the Environmental Defense Fund stops by to talk with Simone about the history of the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project and what to expect from the EIS process.
Below is a transcript of this week’s Delta Dispatches Podcast. Listen to the full recording here or subscribe to our feed in iTunes and Google Play.
Simone: Good afternoon everybody. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches. We’re discussing Louisiana’s coast, it’s people, wildlife, and jobs, and why restoring it matters. This is Simone Maloz with Restore or Retreat. I am once again without my partner in crime, Jacques Hebert. He is taking a much needed vacation, although he seems to be taking a lot of vacations this summer. I’ll have to talk to him about that. We are looking forward to a great show.
We wanted to remind you about our last episode, Mapping Louisiana’s Coast. We had Brady Couvillion with USGS, where he was talking about his latest Louisiana land loss maps, and Scott Hemmerling, from the Water Institute of the Gulf, to talk about his work in human dimensions and how people are affected by land loss. You can catch that episode online on our new website, www.deltadispatches.org. You can listen to past episodes, and you can subscribe to our weekly podcasts on iTunes and Google Play.
One more reminder to take action to protect Louisiana’s coast against devastating cuts to our GOMESA Program. Representative Scalise said in an op-ed, “Over the past few years, there have been attempts to take away this revenue from Louisiana and other energy producing states. But make no mistake, like previous years, I will not allow this critical coastal restoration money to be raided. It’s too important to Louisiana’s future, and is vital to our coastal restoration efforts. This isn’t a partisan issue, and we enjoy strong bipartisan support in protecting these funds for Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states.”
We’re still thinking about the recovery for Congressman Scalise, and we certainly believe in his words.
Another reminder that tonight begins the Mid-Barataria public meetings. These meetings are scheduled to take place from five to eight p.m. There is one tonight in Lafitte at the multipurpose complex, ne next Tuesday in Belle Chasse, and one next Thursday in Port Sulphur. We’re going to talk a lot more about those meetings today, what exactly is going to take place there, and what everything means in the process. You can RSVP for those events on Facebook. You can also find out more information in our blog, which is Your Voice is Needed for Our Coast. Attend upcoming Mid-Barataria scoping meetings.
Well, let’s get into those details of the public meetings, and to do that we have two special guests with us from the Environmental Law Institute. Joining us right now are Teresa Chan and Amy Streitwieser. Welcome to the show, ladies.
Teresa: Thanks for having us.
Amy: Thanks, Simone.
Simone: It’s great to have you guys, it’s about 95 degrees in Louisiana today. I’m sure y’all are missing being here. Y’all were here last week when I think there was a little bit of rain to cool it down. It is definitely a hot one in Louisiana, so I’m sure you’re missing that.
Well thank you for joining us on the show today. Why don’t y’all tell us a little bit about the Environmental Law Institute, and about yourselves personally?
Teresa: Sure, so I’ll tell you a little bit the Environmental Law Institute to start. We’re non-profit organization based out of Washington, D.C. and a bunch of us on staff are lawyers, and that includes Amy, and that includes me. We don’t do what I would say are typical lawyer-like activities. We don’t represent clients, we don’t litigate, and we don’t lobby. But we really focus in on research and education. Just to tell you a little bit more about myself: I have been working at ELI for almost eight years now. For almost seven of that I have been working on Gulf issues. I have been focused mostly on the restoration and recovery processes that were put in place after the BP oil spill. So really just working to provide materials and information that explain what’s going on, and how folks can participate in the processes.
Simone: Probably never thought that path would take you here, right? From Ontario all the way down to another French settlement, huh?
Teresa: No, I wouldn’t have guessed that. For sure.
Simone: Amy, how about you?
Amy: I’ve been with ELI for almost five years. I’ve been working with Teresa on our Gulf of Mexico for about a year now, so it’s almost my anniversary.
Simone: Happy anniversary, Amy.
Amy: Thank you. I was actually born and raised on the Gulf Coast of Florida, so the health of the Gulf and the region are things that are very near and dear to my heart.
Simone: So you can appreciate the humidity too, I’m sure.
Amy: Yes, that as well. And I just really love working in this area of ELI work, mainly because we get a chance to work directly with the communities, and I go to New Orleans all the time, which is obviously a lot of fun.
Simone: That is a nice perk. That show before us was talking about Tales of the Cocktail, which is a big event here in New Orleans. They do their show, and Jacques and I are always like, “Yeah, we need to cross over. We need some cocktails during Delta Dispatches.” So I just want to reiterate, I’m married to a lawyer, so I certainly understand the litigation, and what goes into that. You guys don’t litigate, you don’t lobby, you’re non-partisan. You really want to explain the process, right? To the community and … tell us what you’re doing here in Louisiana.
Teresa: Yeah, so some of our recent work, as you had mentioned, both Amy and I were down in Louisiana last week. During that time we partnered with Restore the Mississippi River Delta coalition in order to host workshops. We held three different workshops. There was one in New Orleans, one in Belle Chase, and another one in Westwego. We were really focused in on those workshops, and discussing those issues that we’re talking to you about today. So, focusing on what scoping is, why it’s important, and how folks can participate in the process.
Simone: So that’s so interesting, of course we are a part of that Mississippi River Delta campaign, and we’ve been talking about sediment diversions on the show, especially mid-Barataria, about the project itself. And hopefully we’ll get into that even more later with our second guest, but really we wanted to talk to the community here. For those folks who couldn’t attend the workshops, let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about the meetings, and what they mean. Some simple scoping 101. So let’s start with: what does that even mean?
Teresa: Yeah, it’s a really odd word, so that’s a good question. To help answer that question I think it might be helpful to take a few steps back and to explain how scoping fits into the process that’s going on right now-
Simone: Sounds like a plan.
Teresa: So we’ve got the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, the CPRA, and it’s proposing to build this project, the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion Project. The CPRA can’t just go ahead and start building the project, but it needs different permits and different permissions. It also has to consult with different government agencies before it can move forward with the project. One of those government agencies is the Army Corps of Engineers. The CPRA has applied to the Army Corps for permits and permissions to move forward with the project. The Corps has to decide, “Do we grant this permissions, and do we issue this permit or not?” In order to help it make its decision, it’s preparing a document called an “Environmental Impact Statement,” or it’s often short-handed as an EIS. That’s required under a Federal law called NEPA, or the National Environmental Policy Act. I know there’s lots of acronyms, so-
Simone: Yeah we’re used to that around here with CPRA and CWPPRA and MRD and all that. But it’s helpful, very helpful for you to explain.
Teresa: So that’s required this document, this environment impact statement is required under NEPA. This EIS is going to help the Army Corps to decide whether it issues the permits and the permissions that CPRA has asked for. It should also help other government agencies who are going to have to make decisions on this project as well, it should help them as well make those decisions.
Now thinking about this environmental impact statement that they’re going to prepare in order to help them figure out whether to issue the permits and permissions. There are several steps that are required to be taken in order to prepare that environmental impact statement. And one of the very first steps that is taken is something called scoping and this is when the government agency determines the range or, as it calls it, the scope of the different issues that will be covered in this environmental impact statement. And as a part of it reaches out to the public and to others and ask for input about what should go into that environmental impact statement. So scoping is really this opportunity, very early on to get input into the document before it’s even drafted. So I think it’s a really important opportunity to participate.
Simone: Absolutely, that’s so fascinating to hear you break it down like that. It’s so complicated. We’re going to have to take a little break, but I hope you all will join us throughout the break. We have a few more things to get into about what to expect at the meeting, what can people do themselves at the meeting. Hopefully we’ll get into all that after the break. We’ll be back, this is Delta Dispatches on WGSO on 990 AM.
Simone: Welcome back to Delta Dispatches. I’m Simone Maloz, hello, with Restore or Retreat. We’re here every Thursday on 990 WGSO, and online throughout new podcast. Clearly I need Jacques Herbert to come back and help me out. Welcome back Amy and Teresa, thank you for hanging with us.
Teresa: Thank you again for having us.
Simone: We were having a great discussion and y’all were very clear on explaining NEPA and EIS, but let’s talk about what folks maybe can expect at the meeting itself. The first one is tonight in Lafitte. What can they expect?
Teresa: Yeah, so, Simone as you already mentioned the meeting’s taking place from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. and about half an hour of that, so the 5:30 to 6:00 p.m. slot of that is going to be going to be presentations. So there’s going to be a presentation on NEPA, and there’s also going to be some presentations on the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion Project. But the rest of the time, so the other two and a half hours is going to be an open house. So that’s a part of the process or part of the meeting where folks can ask questions, and they also can provide comments and they can do that either in written comments, or they can also provide verbal comments.
Simone: Very cool. So, can I provide the comment, at the open house, correct?
Teresa: Yes. You can do either, in terms of if you want to provide a written comment you can bring one with you. Or they also have comment cards there for you to write your comments down if you want to do it that way. And also there’s going to be court reporters set up there. So if you want to give your verbal comments you can go up to one of those court reporters and give your comment to them.
Simone: And you’re limited, right? To the time that you have with the court reporter.
Teresa: Yeah, it’s really short, so there’s only three minutes if you want to give a verbal comment.
Simone: I can talk pretty fast, but I don’t know if I can do everything in three minutes.
Teresa: It’s quick, it’s really quick. They do say that there’s an opportunity, and potentially for more time for a comment, but that’s not guaranteed. So I think you have to count on three minutes.
Simone: So you can submit written comments, though, until I think September 5th, right? So you have a while to submit written comments, correct?
Teresa: Yeah, and I think that’s an important point, which is these meetings aren’t the only opportunity to provide comments. Folks have until September 5th to get in comments. For example, maybe you’re not able to get to the meetings, one of the three meetings that are happening, or you go to a meeting and it sparked some ideas about what you wanted to comment on.
Simone: Right, right.
Teresa: You have until September 5th to either write some things and mail it in, or you can email it as well.
Simone: So Amy, what might I include in my comments?
Amy: The scoping period is your best chance to influence two key aspects of EIS. Number one, the list of environmental impacts and issues it gets included in the discussion, and number two the range of alternative actions that gets considered by the agency. So if you have questions about how the project will impact the environment in your community or if you have ideas for how the project could be tweaked or approached a little differently, those are really the two broad categories that you should be focused on in your scoping comment.
Simone: So impacts, Amy, that doesn’t necessarily mean good or bad, right? Or I guess it could be environment … why don’t you talk a little bit about that?
Amy: Yeah, the idea of an impact is pretty broad. There are lots of types of impacts that you can ask about in your scoping comment. Under the law, the EIS has to cover the impacts on “human environment,” but they use a really broad definition of environment. What that means is that it’s not only impacts on what we might think of as traditional environmental resources: lake, air, and water, and plants, and wildlife, and fish, but it also covers other kinds of impacts that the action could have on us, on humans. So these could be health impacts, economic impacts, effects on special historical places or cultural resources. So for example, you might want them to study impacts on your local business, or changes in property values, or whether your insurance costs will go up and down, or even just how traffic patterns will be affected during the construction phase. All these types of things are fair game for you to ask about in your scoping comment.
Simone: Yeah, that’s good to know. So let’s talk about alternatives. Can one of the alternatives be no action at all?
Amy: Absolutely. Actually, the agency has to include taking no action as one of its alternatives. So the EIS will definitely evaluate the environmental consequences of just sitting back and doing nothing. Usually by the time the scoping meeting agency has a few alternatives in mind that it plans to study in the EIS, including that no action alternative, but scoping’s the only real chance for the public to offer their own ideas and information about other alternatives that might meet the same purpose and need of the project.
Simone: So when y’all did the workshops what was one of the most common, by the way I think y’all were extremely helpful to kind of explain the process and also help people know what to include in their comments, but when y’all did those workshops last week, what were the most common questions that you received that people most commonly asked?
Teresa: Yeah, that’s a good question. In thinking about that, I’m not sure there was a question that came up over and over again, but there definitely was one thing that I think folks were generally struggling with. And this came up through questions and also through comments as well and I think that many folks who are used to commenting or have commented in the past are used to commenting on a document. And here we don’t have one. I think it’s just a really odd thing for many people, because it’s now this opportunity to give input into what should be in that document. As Amy was mentioning, if you have concerns about what possible impacts are, or if you have ideas about possible alternatives to the project, this is the opportunity to do that. I think that’s, again, why this is so important. It’s really getting in early. But as I said, I think that the whole idea of scoping and not really commenting on a document was something that came up a number of times.
Simone: Right, I agree, that is a little different for us. A little different format. So do they have to respond to your comments, concerns, or suggestions that you bring up?
Amy: They do, in general.
Amy: In this situation if you’re talking to the court reporter during this open house, the court reporter probably isn’t going to respond to you. But this is actually different from other public meetings where you get up at the microphone, and you maybe ask a question and you get told there are no responses to your question. It’s just a listening session, you know?
This open house they will be doing a Q and A, they will be answering questions. So just remember that those conversations aren’t in the official comment record. You still need to go over to the court reporter.
Simone: Right, that’s good to know. We’ve been talking about the master plan on Delta Dispatches, and a lot of what came before the master plan was a real dialogue, where we sat down and we kind of had the opposite of a meeting like this. Certainly still the open house and the meet and greet and ask questions and feel comfortable, but it was more of a dialogue. And so this is … and we were commenting frankly on, like you said, a paper document on something that they had been working on. So that is definitely a little bit different for us to think about it in that way, but still very very important. This is the first step in a really long process. So is there anything else that y’all wanted to cover while you had the time? Anything that you want to make sure that people understand about the scoping meetings or about this particular process or even about NEPA itself?
Teresa: One thing I would say, picking up on what you saying this is a long process, and I think that’s right. We’re not expecting this draft environmental impact statement for actually a few years. I think, right now-
Simone: Years, just to reiterate that, right? It takes a while to put this together.
Teresa: Yeah, it’s 2020, so it could be a long time before we see this draft document come out of here, and see what the impact statement. And it’s going to be another couple years after that, at least at this point that’s what they’re targeting, a couple years after that before it’s finalized. This is really just the beginning of a long process, but again, almost like everything else, the earlier you start to participate, the better.
Simone: Agree, yeah good point. Good point. So ladies, where can we find you? Where is ELI? Twitter, Facebook, online? Give us the details.
Teresa: Yeah, so the best place to find us is on our website, which is not the easiest, but it’s eli-ocean.org/gulf. You can find our … we have a FAQ sheet, a general FAQ sheet about scoping that’s up there on the website.
Simone: Oh, that’s helpful, great.
Teresa: Yeah, so it’s not specific to the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion Project, but it gives some details about NEPA and about scoping if you’d like some more information.
Simone: Yeah, that’s very very helpful. Well my partner in crime, Jacques’, not here, but we usually like to end our segment with a fun question. Since it’s Tales of the Cocktails this week, what is your favorite New Orleans cocktail? You have to answer, or I won’t let you off the phone.
Teresa: Amy, do you have a-
Amy: A New Orleans cocktail?
Simone: Any new-
Amy: Hand grenade, you’ve got to go hand grenade, right?
Simone: Right. You might be the first person to say that, that’s funny. Alright ladies, we very much appreciate your time today. It’s been so helpful. We are going to share that information on the NEPA worksheet. We are very grateful for your time, we look forward to working with you again, so y’all can come back to Louisiana.
Teresa: Thanks so much for having us.
Simone: Alright, thanks. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches. We’ll be back after the break.
Simone: Welcome back to Delta Dispatches, this is Simone Maloz missing my partner in crime, Jacques Herbert. He’ll be back next week. We’re here every Thursday on 990 WGSO, and you can also hear us online through our new podcast.We’re continuing our discussion on Mid-Barataria. You’ve heard us talk about the meetings enough. We are so grateful to have with us Natalie Peyronnin, the Director of Science Policy for the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign and the Environmental Defense Fund. Welcome back, Natalie.
Natalie: Thanks Simone, glad to be back.
Simone: Yes, so you are in D.C. How’s your Summer going? We were just talking about how hot it is there.
Natalie: It is hot here. And I certainly wish I was at the beach with Jacques.
Simone: Yeah, at least it’s hot with a little reprieve there, right?
Simone: If it makes you feel any better it was 95 here today, so … You’ll be back next week, you can experience that for yourself.
Natalie: It’ll be a cool day on-
Simone: Right, I know that’s when you welcome the rain. So Natalie, last time you were on we discussed the versions, I’m sure, and how they can be operated. But this time I wanted to get into the weeds of a particular project that we work on, and is top of mind lately: The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion. We talked in the first segment with ELI about the scoping meetings that are beginning tonight, but could you remind our listeners just about diversions in general, and about the power of reconnecting the Mississippi River to its Delta?
Natalie: Sure, the muddy Mississippi that goes past New Orleans every day is really an essential tool that we need to put to work to rebuild our coast and use that mud to build wetlands. So sediment diversion does just that. It’s a series of gates that are built within the levee system that allow a portion of the Mississippi River and all its sediment and nutrients to go out into the wetlands and start rebuilding and nourishing the wetlands that are there. So they both build new land, but they also help prevent the loss of the land that we’re losing now every day.
Simone: So Mid-Barataria says it all, right? It’s targeted for the Barataria Basin, why is that basin in particular important to us?
Natalie: I think the whole coastal Louisiana is important to us-
Simone: Aw, you don’t pick a favorite basin, Natalie? That was a trick, good job.
Natalie: No, I don’t have a favorite, they all have good parts to them and good people in them, but the Barataria Basin number one it’s right next to the river, so that makes it an ideal location for a sediment diversion. In the 2017 coastal master plan, the Barataria basin is predicted to lose 550 square miles of land in the next 50 years.
Simone: Wow, so say that again, Natalie. We had Brady Couvillion last week with USGS, but 550 square miles in the next 50 years.
Natalie: 550 square miles. That’s about 350,000 acres of land just in that basin. And then another reason is the oil spill. Everybody watched the oil come in to Barataria Basin, it was ground zero for where the oil landed. So it kind of has this historic land loss and future land loss that we’ve been experiencing all across coastal Louisiana, but it also has been impacted by the oil spill.
Simone: So yeah, oil spill, and that’s certainly one of the sources of funding for this project, but this project’s been around for a long time, right? It had another name at one point.
Natalie: Yeah, some folks may know it as the Myrtle Grove Sediment Diversion, which was its original name, which kind of put it in the location of the wonderful fishing community, Myrtle Grove.
Simone: So tell us a little bit about the history of the project, it goes back a ways, at least to the ’80s?
Natalie: Yeah, so it first appears in reports from the Corps of Engineers in 1984, so we’re talking over 30 years of studying and moving this project along. It was then one of the main diversion projects in a plan called Coast 2050, and then after that in a Corps-State partnership study called the Louisiana Coastal Area Study. That study did move on to go to Congress, and got approval in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA. So it’s been not only approved by the Corps through the NEPA process, but also one key thing is it was identified as a near-term priority. Back then in 2007 it was said that these are the projects we need to get on the ground to start doing work in the next 10 years. Here we are, 10 years later, and we’re still not getting this project on the ground quite yet.
Simone: Yeah, so those are really great points. We’ve talked about both Coast 2050, and now LCA before on the show. I remember when I first started at Restore or Retreat, within a month after I started I remember the Colonel signed the record or decision or something at the time on LCA, and then it went on to be in WRDA. Which was kind of the abbreviated version of some of the projects that were in the original LCA, but it was deemed a near-term priority. So that’s interesting that it’s received Corps approval before, and has been in reports for a long time, as diversions have as well. Right, Natalie? You’ve done a lot a lot of work on diversions, and not just this one. Diversions have almost always been in coastal reports, right?
Natalie: Oh, yeah. Since way back when the Coastal Land Loss Crisis was first identified back in the ’60s and ’70s. The scientists who were identifying the problem were also identifying diversions as the solution way back then. Identifying this exact location in Mid-Barataria is first in the 1984 report.
Simone: So since 2007 there has been some changes to the project. Certainly science and technology that’s been done has just improved just light years, right? But also the size of the project has changed. Is there, what are some of the changes that are of note from the project of what was known as Myrtle Grove, to now Mid-Barataria
Natalie: Yeah, it has changed as we’ve learned more, we’ve done a lot more science. Even though we’re waiting for this project to be constructed, along the way it’s been studied in advance, and so we’ve, the state, the Corps and others have done work to identify what’s the right size for this diversion? Originally in LCA it was 15,000 cubic feet per second, and during modeling and testing different capacities of the diversion it was found that actually if you increase the capacity to 75,000 cubic feet per second you capture way more sediment off the river, and you can build more land. So that was a decision that was come to a few years ago.
In addition, there was a lot of work on the location. What’s the exact right location on the river that the diversion should be? And as you can imagine, the river meanders and bends, and there’s a difference if you put a diversion on the inside of a meander as opposed to the outside of a meander. So there was a lot of work done there to identify the exact location. Those things were done to ensure that we capture the most sediment from the river to build the most land and sustain the most land, and also reduce any impact that may be possible to the navigation channel with schilling and sedimentation and insuring that we can grab that sediment and use it the way we want to.
Simone: And we know from your own work, Natalie, that doesn’t mean on day one you flip a switch and it’s 75,000 cfs, right?
Natalie: No, there’s no way to open it up on day one and capture that much of the river, because the basin is not adjusted to a sediment diversion. So it had this slow collapse over the last 100 years, the Barataria Basin, and it’s an everyday thing. We can’t go in there and shock it to 75,000 cubic feet per second. Once it is operational, it will gradually increase in operations allowing the environment and the ecosystem to adjust to handle that capacity.
Simone: So, Natalie, where you have that work, where can we find that? It was recently just published, correct? Where can we find that information on the actual operations? And not just of diversions in general, right?
Natalie: Yeah, there’s a lot of information including summary reports, the main report, and some blogs and some presentations all available on mississippiriverdelta.org.
Simone: That’s great, so after the break we’re going to talk about some recent advancements on the project including that post-bill funding source. We want to talk about what is the Federal Dashboard, what that even means. But also we want to talk about timelines and some other things like that. Natalie, are you able to hang on for us for a little while?
Natalie: I will do so.
Simone: Okay, great. We’re going to have to take a short commercial break. You’re listening to WGSO 990 AM, where we’re discussing Louisiana’s coast, its people, wildlife, jobs, and why restoring it matters. We’ll see you after the break.
Welcome back, this is Simone Maloz. You’re listening to Delta Dispatches. We’re discussing Louisiana’s coast, its people, wildlife, jobs, and why restoring it matters. We are back with Natalie Peyronnin, the Director of Science Policy for the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition and with the Environmental Defense Fund. Welcome back Natalie.
Natalie: Thanks, Simone.
Simone: We talk a lot about funding on this show. This project does have some initial funding, correct?
Natalie: Correct, so the first step in the process is the engineering design and permitting of the project. And so that has come from NFWF, which has supplied the funding to go through the engineering.
Simone: Sure, so as we’ve explained before on the show, that’s the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which was the recipient of some fines, criminal fines, as a result of the deaths associated with the Deep Water Horizon incident. And so that is an organization maybe unfamiliar to us, but it is known for these types of settlements if you will, and they’ve dedicated some money here to Louisiana, and it’s dedicated only for diversions and barrier islands. You’ve heard us talk a lot about Caminada, the beach down there by Grand Isle and Mersea island, that was also NFWF funding. So we’ve talked about that before. Natalie, tell us a little bit about the Federal Dashboard, and what Mid-Barataria being added to the “Federal Dashboard,” what does that even mean?
Natalie: So the Federal Dashboard comes out of law past 41 that was passed to understand the permitting issues. We’ve all heard about the bureaucracy of permitting, and there’s not consistency necessarily in permitting within the Federal Government, and so it was mainly initiated for normal infrastructure, so a road in one area of the country may take two years to get a permit, and a similar road could take five years in another. So really trying to build the consistency, understand what the timelines are for getting a permit through the process. Kind of cutting red tape is said, but still maintaining all of the essential parts of the process. Then the other part of it is to increase the transparency of the permitting process. And so the Mid-Barataria being added is a really great thing. It’s the only environmental project to date on the dashboard. The rest is your traditional infrastructure type projects, so we’re excited to see how the Federal Dashboard can not only streamline the project while maintaining all those environmental regulations, but also increase the transparency and engagement with stakeholders.
Simone: Yeah, that sounds like a real win for all of coastal restoration to have a project like that added to the dashboard. I know that the governor himself also wrote a letter to the current administration also asking them to consider this one of the vital infrastructure projects that it wants to implement. So that’s good. It’s also interesting to hear you compare a road in one place may take two years to go through the permitting process and somewhere else it may take longer. Let’s talk some timelines. We talked with the ladies from ELI that tonight’s scoping meeting and next week’s scoping meeting is really one of the very first steps in this process. What are some other milestones and dates that we might expect?
Natalie: So at the end of the scoping process on the Federal Dashboard, the Corps must produce a scoping report, and this is kind of a report that typically tells us everything they’ve heard during the scoping process, and the comments that people made and where we’re really encouraging the Corps to also include in that scoping report timeline for when the permit milestones will be made. What they plan to do. What analysis do they plan to do, and what data are they going to use? Really what issues are they looking at and trying to dig into within the EIS process? We really encourage folks the Corps, and we’re encouraging folks to also encourage the Corps to really make this report a very robust report. So that people can really see, “Okay, here’s the whole process laid out.” After that the draft EIS is currently set to come out in April 2020.
Simone: 2020. 2020.
Natalie: 2020. And then the Corps been on record saying they would make their final permitting decision in October 2022.
Simone: Natalie that seems-
Natalie: It’s only 2017.
Simone: Yeah, right. For a reminder for everybody it’s 2017. That seems like a long time. Nobody wants to cut corners, but are there any efficiencies in the process that we can find? Is there anything that could be done to, like I said, not cut corners, but to speed up that process?
Natalie: I can’t imagine that there isn’t. A typical EIS-
Simone: That was also a trick question Natalie, good job.
Natalie: Yeah, a typical EIS takes three years kind of the average of what people say an EIS should take. This project has been studied as we said since 1984, and through the NEPA process a lot of these things have already been studied. So there are NEPA supporting documents already for this project that can be brought into an EIS. So we truly believe that there are ways to speed up the process, that we have to. We absolutely have to. We need to coordination of the federal agencies, and the cooperation of the state to all work together to ensure that we can do this as quick as possible, because remember, every single day we don’t get a permit, which we’re not constructing, which we’re not operating and every single day the land out in Barataria Bay is going away. The wait doesn’t just mean that, “Oh we just have to wait to get our project.” It means we’re losing land every single day.
Simone: Yeah, so this great article just today on Ehab Meselhe with the Water Institute of the Gulf I know you’ve worked with Ehab a lot and it was this really great insight into Ehab and all of his amazing work on not just diversions, but the master plan, but at the end it just talked about how he was looking out his window, looking at the Mississippi River and just said, “That’s opportunity that’s passing.” Right? So every single day … we had Brady on last week talking about that, about how much land that we’re losing and the important opportunity that this project has for us and the impact that it can make into the whole delta, right? All of it, not just this project, but it certainly is leading the way for other projects including Mid-Breton, that’s a whole nother project. Do you want to talk about that for just a little bit? That’s another project included in the master plan.
Natalie: Sure, I mean just like Barataria Basin is losing a lot of land, Breton Basin is losing a lot of land on the other side of the river. And needs the same solution. And Mid-Breton has been around again for a very long time, probably the same amount of time that Mid-Barataria has. It used to be known as White Fish.
Simone: Oh, yes. They like these undercover names, huh? They change them on you.
Natalie: Yeah, you’ve got to follow it down the line. But you know, it’s just as important to get that sediment diversion in the ground for the Breton Basin as it is for the Barataria Basin, and so moving sediment diversion forward, making sure that we’re not spending five years on every single sediment diversion we’ll just be too far behind the ball. So we’ve got to move this forward as quickly as we can.
Simone: Well yeah, Natalie, we’ll have you on to maybe talk about Mid-Breton another time. It’s a whole different project for a whole different basin. We’ll have you back to talk about that. But thank you for joining us today to talk about Mid-Barataria, again tonight kicks off that important scoping process. Once again, you’ve provided us with some excellent information about a project that’s one of the cornerstones of the state’s restoration program. Where can we find you, Natalie? Twitter, Facebook, where you at? Where you at girl?
Natalie: You can find me on Twitter, or on EDF.org. I’ve got my information there if you’d like to reach out I’m happy to talk to anybody about sediment diversion or anything else coastal.
Simone: Great, thank you Natalie. Thanks for joining us. Just a reminder, the Mid-Barataria public meetings begin tonight. They’re from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. It’s in LaFitte, in the multipurpose complex. Next Tuesday in the Belle Chase Auditorium, and next Thursday in the Port Sulphur Community Center. Thank you for joining us on Delta Dispatches. That’s it for this show, thanks for joining us. Until next week. I’m Simone Maloz with Restore or Retreat. Have a good evening.