Louisiana Lawmakers Approve Historic Hurricane Protection Plan

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana, June 1, 2007 (ENS) - The Louisiana Legislature has unanimously approved the state's first comprehensive master plan for coastal restoration and hurricane protection. Passed Wednesday, just ahead of an Atlantic hurricane season forecast to be unusually active, the plan is designed to guide all coastal protection and wetland restoration projects in Louisiana over the next several decades.

Entitled, "Integrated Ecosystem Restoration and Hurricane Protection: Louisiana's Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast," the plan is the result of more than 18 months of extensive research, writing, planning and public discussion.

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco said the new master plan brings accountability and public input on a level never before achieved. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
"As we begin the 2007 Hurricane Season, this first master plan stands as a testament to our resolve, incorporating hurricane protection and coastal restoration for the first time in our state's history," said Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, who steered her state through the devastating 2005 hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"This comprehensive master plan will have a lasting impact on the safety of our citizens and the welfare of our state," the governor said.

Now that the plan is in place, Blanco today called on the Legislature put at least $200 million of the state's surplus funds in a coastal fund and in addition, allow the state to secure the Tobacco Settlement, of which 20 percent was constitutionally dedicated to the fund by a statewide referendum.

In addition to adopting the master plan, the Legislature also unanimously approved the Fiscal Year 2008 Annual Plan, which identifies projects within the master plan that will be planned or constructed during the next three years and the approximate costs of each project.

Louisiana Senator Reggie Dupre, left, and Representative Loulan Pitre, chairmen of the Senate and House committees studying coastal restoration and flood control, brief other committee members and officials on the past, present and future of Louisiana's coastline. (Photo courtesy Louisiana State Senate)
"I am pleased the legislature has acted swiftly to put this plan in place," Blanco said. "With the passage of the [funding] resolutions, Louisiana can make immediate use of state dollars and the federal revenue stream to follow."

Federal funding comes to Louisiana in part through the the Coastal Impact Assistance Plan, CIAP. The program provides the seven states that host onshore oil and gas infrastructure with money to mitigate the impacts of petroleum production on the Outer Continental Shelf.

Louisiana's share will be $510 million over the next four years, with the state receiving 65 percent and the coastal parishes 35 percent.

Governor Blanco today formally submitted a plan to the U.S. Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service for the allocation of more than $500 million dollars in CIAP money to fund the first phase of Louisiana's Master Plan.

The governor said today that CIAP projects are consistent with the new Master Plan and represent the first phase for implementing its larger vision.

More than 30 meetings with civic groups, coastal scientists, concerned citizens and various stakeholders were conducted since the summer of 2006 to gather input and introduce the public to some of the concepts and potential projects in the plan.

Louisiana's coastal zone contains almost 40 percent of the lower 48 states' coastal wetlands and includes the Atchafalaya River Basin, a large area of bottomland forest. (Photo courtesy USGS)
Integrating coastal restoration with hurricane protection in a system-wide approach, the Master Plan will be the overarching framework for all ongoing and future coastal restoration and protection efforts in the state, such as the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act and the Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration.

It recommends strategies, including rebuilding and sustaining coastal marshes by restoring the natural freshwater flows and sediment deposits that were originally responsible for building the wetlands along Louisiana's coast.

Barrier island restoration, beneficial use of dredged materials to build marsh, shoreline stabilization of coastal lakes and bays, and coastal forest and ridge habitat restoration, are identified in the plan as well.

The plan suggests a multi-faceted approach to hurricane protection.

In addition to the building of new levee systems and strengthening existing levees, the plan addresses the need to build elevated houses and businesses in flood-prone areas, enforcement of stricter building codes, planning for wiser land use and implementing more refined evacuation plans.

"Louisiana finds itself in the unexpected position of leading the Corps of Engineers, instead of following," said Sidney Coffee, chair of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, CPRA, which guided the creation of the master plan.

After Hurricane Rita an American flag is planted on a sandbar that was once a road in Louisiana's Holly Beach, a gulfside tourist and fishing community. October 3, 2005. (Photo by Win Henderson courtesy FEMA)
Created by law in December 2005 after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, CPRA's mandate is to be the single state entity with authority to articulate a clear statement of priorities and develop, implement and enforce a comprehensive coastal protection and restoration master plan.

"Because of the steps we've now taken and the commitments we've made, we also find ourselves with the credibility to ask Congress to do what we're doing; change the way they go about the business of large scale ecosystem restoration efforts by prioritizing projects and streamlining the interminable federal processes that impede urgent efforts like ours," Coffee said.

The state is working closely with the Army Corps of Engineers as it develops its Congressionally-mandated Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Plan, LaCPR, which is due to Congress in December. According to Corps of Engineers' officials, LaCPR will use the state's Master Plan as the vision for its efforts.

Engineer Karen Durham-Aguilera, Director of Task Force Hope, part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mississippi Valley Division, said a draft of the technical report of the LaCPR should be complete by the end of the summer and will be followed by a public comment period.

The Corps is on schedule to meet the Congressionally-mandated deadline to have a draft of the report complete for Congressional review, Aguilera said. A final report similar to the state plan will be complete by July 2008.

To view the state master plan online, click here.

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