SMART Solutions for Restoration: The Second Summit on Coastal Restoration in Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes

By Maura Wood, National Wildlife Federation

On Oct. 31, 2012, Garret Graves, director of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), spoke at the Second Summit on Coastal Restoration in Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes held at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La. At the time, summit attendees were unaware of the proposed settlement on criminal penalties against BP for oil spill damages that would designate a sizable portion of these funds over the next five years to river diversions and barrier islands to restore Louisiana’s coastal habitats. Now, with a tangible and substantial amount pending only approval by the judge, his comments are even more relevant.

Mr. Graves began by detailing progress made over the last five years, including establishment of the CPRA as a policy and implementation arm with the authority to consolidate and integrate coastal protection and restoration functions which were formerly scattered throughout state government. He stressed resiliency and a comprehensive approach to restoration as central themes of CPRA. Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan, informed by these themes, created a common set of principles while also recognizing limitations in funding and resources to accomplish restoration and protection. With that in mind, he detailed five next steps to strengthen the state’s ability to plan and build projects.

First, Graves spoke of the importance of continuing to integrate the expertise and capability of agencies and entities at the federal, regional, state and parish level. Second, he detailed the need to improve the predictability of funding. Gulf of Mexico Energy Securities Act (GOMESA), the RESTORE Act, gulf oil spill Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) funding, and BP civil penalties are all potential sources, although how much might be available and when remains a murky issue.

Third, Graves recommended a better integration of levee districts. The effort to combine and streamline began with the consolidation of several levee districts in the New Orleans area after Hurricane Katrina. Graves reminded participants that many levee districts were established in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, and their boundaries are frequently political. Now, he said, would be a good time to consider hydrologic boundaries as opposed to geopolitical ones.

Next, Graves cited the utter emergency of the current rate of land loss and called for reform in the way the Army Corps of Engineers pursues projects.  While praising the corps in some areas, he asserted the need to speed progress exponentially and called for an end to obstacles and delays. Finally, Graves detailed the need to establish a network of pipelines to deliver sediment to areas across the coast that are currently sediment starved. Although river diversions will deliver the most bang for the buck, he said, we must also get sediment in to some areas as quickly as possible.

Graves may not have known that a BP criminal settlement would dedicate $1.2 billion over the next five years to restore barrier islands and implement river diversion projects – significant progress toward a renewed and self-renewing coast. Yet his major next steps – integrating the capability and expertise of  federal agencies, levee districts, as well as the corps; and changing positions and practices that impair rapid action on restoration – are all the more important now that money is available.

The second summit for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on coastal restoration in Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes was sponsored by Restore or Retreat and the National Wildlife Federation. The event brought together NGO representatives who have considered restoration goals in these parishes and are committed to specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely (SMART) actions to advance those goals.