Permits for Large Scale River Diversions at Issue
Baton Rouge, LA – Imploring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to treat permits for the Mid- Barataria diversion with urgency, the America’s WETLAND Foundation (AWF) today said we can wait no longer for process and planning. The call for immediate action comes as predictions for the rate of wetland loss in coastal Louisiana has been adjusted upward with release of the 2017 Coastal Master Plan – the worst-case land loss scenarios have now become the best-case projections.
For more than a decade, AWF has urged agencies of the Federal Government to treat coastal restoration as a national emergency, based on assets critical to America’s economy at risk in the Louisiana coastal zone. The Foundation has convened more than fifty leadership forums; stakeholders have built the case for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to streamline processes for permitting coastal restoration projects and to encourage the private sector and land owners to support private land restoration.
Most recently, AWF entered into a cooperative public-private partnership with industry, NGOs, Louisiana CPRA and the Corps to build one mile of threatened embankments along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. At a cost of one-million dollars, the project utilized new soft engineering solutions and employed recycled plastics and native plants to hold back salt water intrusion and rising tides brought about by sea level rise. Louisiana companies, including Resource Environmental Solutions (RES) provided innovative plantings of hardy grass stocks to create a natural approach to restoration that supports environmental health.
“We meet regularly with the Corps to show the benefits of private sector engagement in restoring our coast,” Val Marmilion, AWF managing director, said. “With an estimated $50 billion price tag to restore the coast hanging over our heads, we know that privately sponsored projects can help the bigger projects succeed. And, we are proving that we can make these projects happen rapidly and cost effectively.”
The Foundation has recently called for an uptick in what it terms “transitional” projects, designed to attack coastal land loss in areas where ecosystem, community and economic assets are immediately threatened. Private sector projects will not solve the coastal crisis but they can sustain fresh water marshes and important navigation routes now, supporting larger projects that can achieve optimum effectiveness when completed years from now. A continuing theme raised by AWF is the damage being done daily to wetlands while projects await traditional approvals not designed for the present emergency in Louisiana.
“We have a choice,” AWF senior advisor and former Louisiana coastal chair, Sidney Coffee, said. “We can treat this crisis as business as usual and lose our coast, or we can be inventive, innovative and implore the Corps to act with the urgency that matches the challenge.” Those challenges are many, according to the Foundation, but nothing can proceed without overcoming the permitting challenge to allow the state’s coastal master plan to be enacted. “The Corps must be our best partner in writing the script for coastal restoration and we have no time to waste,” Coffee said.
In its comments, AWF made the case for urgency based on public fear over losing their communities, citing ” Public frustration over project delays and unending planning cycles is aligned with the seriousness of the land loss crisis. It is time to move expeditiously on the EIS and begin implementation of the diversion(s).” The Foundation noted that 72% of Louisiana voters call coastal restoration the issue of their lifetimes.