COASTAL PLAN IN HAND, LOUISIANA MOVES BEYOND TO ADAPT TO ‘NEW NORMAL’

Year-End Findings View State Master Plan with Generational Timelines in Mind

BATON ROUGE, LA – Calling on all sectors of Louisiana to adjust to a “new normal” when viewing life and commerce in the state’s coastal zone, a diverse group of leaders, including Governor John Bel Edwards, has painted a picture of coastal conditions and progress on restoration following two fall events: The Summit on the Master Plan and Beyond, hosted by the CPRA and America’s WETLAND Foundation (AWF), and the Coastal Wetland Communities Adaptation Leadership Forum hosted by AWF, RES and Nicholls State University. The events explored the anatomy of a new coastal Louisiana and the roles of government, private sector businesses, and citizens to ensure a sustainable future for the region.

Governor John Bel Edwards, the summit keynote speaker, said, “Everyone of you are here today because Louisiana is important and what’s happening with our coastal program is critical. Every day the master plan is less theoretical and more real and we need to collaborate now more than ever in our past.”

“From the creation of the CPRA Board in 2006 and the unanimous passage of the 2007, 2012, and 2017 Coastal Master Plans, to LA SAFE and this year’s creation of the Watershed Initiative, Louisiana state government has shown itself to be willing and capable of adapting to meet the challenges in front of us. We have also put science at the center of our approach, not politics, and that remains essential,” Governor Edwards said. “We can either get organized and aligned, work together across agencies and across levels of government, spend our money wisely and coordinate all of our various efforts, or we can stay in our corners, miss the big picture, and fail to design the kinds of solutions our people deserve and demand because we can’t get our political house in order.”

The events stand as benchmarks for AWF – the beginning of a new round of local leadership forums styled after programs in the five Gulf states to introduce the concepts of community resiliency and building on a previous summit and series of roundtable discussions to announce the 2017 iteration of the Louisiana master plan.

“Through the years, the America’s WETLAND Foundation has brought the brightest minds available to the table to address the challenges we face on this nationally critical coastline, as well as the opportunities to creatively work toward solutions for ensuring a sustainable region. This summit is no exception,” King Milling, chair of AWF and the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection and Restoration, said. “In partnership with the CPRA, we move forward with resiliency plans to adapt to the new normal that is our coast.”

The summit was the second time in as many years that the Governor led panels of coastal leaders to gather around Louisiana’s master planning process. The conversation was hopeful with more than 60 coastal projects online that include 33 focused on sediment transport to re-nourish and sustain wetlands dying for lack of fresh water.

Johnny Bradberry, chairman of the CPRA, noted progress made on the state’s 2017 master plan, “Today we have 65 active projects that will benefit more than 204 square miles of coastal habitat and improve 172 miles of levee,” Bradberry said. “Over the next 14 years, we will have access to up to $11 billion for restoration and protection of our coast. It is not enough to solve our problems but is far more than we ever imagined we would have in this timeframe. This will enable us to make real changes and cement a water economy here in Louisiana, working on the optimal pairing of projects and funding streams, using creative ways of financing and always with absolute transparency.”

The summit served as a launch for the Louisiana Coastal Exchange (LCX), a listing and reporting of private sector coastal restoration projects that have been completed or are planned and available for private investment. Potential new projects must be consistent with the state’s master plan and in some cases, can offer opportunities to collaborate with local communities and parishes on projects that can hold the line as larger state and parish efforts are completed.

Representative Walt Leger, Louisiana Speaker Pro Tempore and co-chair with Rep. Jerome “Zee” Zeringue of the Exchange, noted, “As we go forward, it’s important to keep in mind that the citizens of our state expect us all to work together – the private sector working with NGOs and local communities. We have to support our families in adapting to the new normal and we need everyone to keep restoration dynamic to avoid retreat.”

“The ‘new normal’ refers to adapting to life after considering what will make a threatened region resilient, what will provide a bounce back to a normal state given adjusted expectations,” Val Marmillion, AWF managing director, said. “If you look at land loss projection maps where the worst case projections of land loss are now the best scenarios, you quickly realize that we are not the same ecosystem or land mass we were in 1960,” Marmillion said.

Chip Kline, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, told summit attendees, “The master plan must show the ability to adapt and change but something that won’t change is the plan’s dependence on the best available science. The plan must adapt to and show the ability to incorporate new project concepts. We must take advantage of every financial tool – creative financing and delivery mechanisms must all be considered and available to the CPRA. Over the next two years, the state will have to make a decision on whether to bond out GOMESA dollars in an era of uncertainty with some in Congress arguing to change the formula of the Act that guaranteed Louisiana a growing share of offshore revenue sharing to finance coastal restoration.”

Bren Haase, deputy director of the CPRA, noted that projects will pay for themselves more than three times over the life of the plan with a focus on harnessing the natural processes that built Louisiana to help rebuild the wetlands. “Looking ahead to the 2023 plan, we are developing our process and opening up with a call for new projects – large-scale projects that can have big impacts on the coast. We have technical tools that allow us to evaluate projects and we’re creating teams of people who know their areas well who can give important input into the plan,” Haase said.

Col. Michael Clancy, New Orleans District Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, told the group that the New Orleans District has about a third of the nation’s $100 billion budget, but with $8 billion authorized and zero money appropriated to do the projects. No civil works project is 100% federally funded and must be cost shared. Without a non-federal sponsor, the Corps cannot ask for federal dollars to do projects and we are lacking such a partner today on the LCA.”

Karen Gautreaux, director of government relations for the Louisiana Nature Conservancy, said, ” We have a plan for spending our money through good science. Investments we’ve made have served us well through the years and there are other states envious of the work we’ve done. Challenges we knew would be here haven’t all been solved but the money is way beyond what we imagined at this point. We now need to rethink how we come up with the state’s cost share on projects.”

In discussing what we are buying and when we are buying it, Tanner Johnson, director of the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund for National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, said, “NFWF views its role as an active partner and funder of the state’s projects, not as setting state priorities.” One of the largest projects in state’s history is the Caminada Headlands project and NFWF played a big role in funding it. “Like the dog that got the bone, we are actually doing one of the world’s largest coastal projects,” Johnson said.

While the spending of federal dollars was a major topic of concern, local stories of adaption included efforts in Terrebonne Parish and Southwest Louisiana to raise local monies through voter referenda.These two very different models highlight the need for locally funded solutions in the future to guarantee protection of population and economic centers of South Louisiana. Reggie Dupre, former State Senator who heads the Terrebonne levee district said, “We have managed one of the largest projects with efficiency and on time performance and everyone needs to understand that we should never ever build anything we cannot maintain. The residents of Terrebonne Parish have taxed themselves out of a need to survive and as a result, we have the very positive outcome of environmental benefits from our projects.”

And from southwest Louisiana, former Lake Charles Mayor and author of the bill that created the state’s coastal program when he served in the Louisiana legislature, Randy Roach described voters facing the need to protect jobs coming with billions of dollars being invested in Calcasieu Parish because of the saltwater ship channel. “We created a navigation district and we plan to call for a tax to support it. Leadership makes the difference and we have found that we cannot wait around. One of our best defenses for urban areas of Calcasieu is to restore Cameron Parish,” Roach said.

The America’s WETLAND Foundation’s Louisiana Coastal Exchange (LCX) was founded in cooperation by noted Rice University professor, Dr. Jim Blackburn, whose similar effort is being developed in Texas. Louisiana State Representative Jerome “Zee” Zeringue who co-chairs the LCX, noted, “I urge private companies to participate in restoration projects in concert and partnership with coastal parishes. These projects are critical to our communities in the short term and can greatly complement the master plan as it addresses the long term needs.” Letters from Representatives Leger and Zeringue will soon ask private sector companies, foundations and NGOs to begin listing restoration, protection and water management projects on the new online LCX portal at americaswetland.com/lcx.

From a global industry perspective, Selby Bush, manager of Corporate Affairs for BHP, said, “Sustainability of our Gulf operations is critical and we were shaken by the 2017 master plan and its projections. BHP is focused on biodiversity and has a social investment model focused on long-term results. We have global sustainability targets and our partnership with AWF and Resource Environmental Services (RES) is very much in line with our sustainability goals. Companies don’t always like to promote what they do but the Exchange can offer opportunities to match our priorities with projects that are needed.” Two projects supported by BHP, developed by RES and managed by AWF, initiate the LCX.

Elliott Bouillion, president and CEO of RES, said, “There is a change now in corporations and the young people who work for them who really care about our environment and their social responsibility. These companies are not just about getting permits now. As companies look at protecting their assets, we can look at what you can do in that watershed that can increase the value of that asset. We need to build more collaborative partnerships. Mitigation banking is no longer the end all.”

Andy Kopplin, president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, said, “Impact investing is coming into its own and there is a generational pressure to look at this as part of the bottom line of an institution at the board level. They want returns and are looking for social responsibility aspects and projects that are good for the community. Louisiana can really benefit from this movement – we have great projects here of great benefit to the environment. We can match public resources and private resources through investments of pension funds, for example.” Professor Blackburn agreed, “The ability to sell products in the future will be tied to the footprint you leave and there are changes in the market system and social responsibility comes into play by these companies – a different metric across the board.  It’s a worthwhile notion to develop.”

The notion of telling time in generations was a subject of discussion at the summit as well, addressing the need to think in generational terms, designing landscapes to support communities and the decisions families face in planning for the future.

Keith Magill, executive editor of Houma Today, said, “While insurance is a known major factor, it is not well known that the migration has begun. Between the last two census reports, Dulac lost 40 percent of its population. People are already moving on their own volition and without help – some are just tired of the flooding but some are moving a little bit north and believe they’re safe. There are still a lot of myths and misinformation.”

Leah Brown, manager of policy, government and public affairs at Chevron, said, “From a social investment standpoint, we support various focus areas that affect our employees who live and work on the coast. I’m from Louisiana and want my daughter to be able to stay here. We want to all work together. Whether in Houma or Denham Springs or New Orleans, living with water is now a way of life. Chevron has been here for 80 years and plans to be here for the next 150 years.”

Nicholls State University President Jay Clune grew up in Houma, left for the Peace Corps at age 23, and returned at 53 to head Nicholls State University. “Our students work with growing plants for the coast and interning and working at local NGOs. They want to be a part of the solution. We say if you want to save the coast, come to the coast,” Clune said. “We have dynamic faculty members who communicate often through social media about the coast. It’s personal to us and very real. We’re looking at bringing a coastal engineering program to Nicholls.” Clune with an eye on the new normal noted that students will have new opportunities and being the university closest to the Gulf, Nicholls will adjust its curriculum to educate the new “adaptation generation.”

Mark Davis, director of the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy, said, “People have always moved to the coast and around the coast. Tulane does not exist without New Orleans and New Orleans does not exist without the coast. We are recruiting faculty and students all the time. The reality is about where will you be in the future and since it’s nobody’s responsibility to look out for us, it’s up to us. If we don’t make it our business to understand the risks and what they mean, others will make decisions for us. Water is an asset and we have to create more ability to adapt to the changes.”

Davis also noted a case going to the Supreme Court right now that was filed by children – one from Louisiana – that it is their right to stay in their communities and be safe. “But you can have all the rights in the world and the question remains, who pays for that?” Davis asked.

When exploring science gaps that will need to be filled in the next decade, longtime coastal researcher and head of Louisiana Sea Grant, Robert Twilley, said, “At Sea Grant, we’re looking at water dynamics and budgets and how to store water. Understanding how the system works and how to incorporate that into our designs, we need to work across sectors and adapt as we go. The National Science Foundation is reorganizing their grants to bring science disciplines together. We are now forming teams to not just look at how a system performs but at how we can adapt to a changing environment.”

Denise Reed, Professor Gratis at the University of New Orleans, said, “We understand the dynamics of how the natural system works with the social sciences and economics, the behavioral sciences and engineering, and the interplay with the policy side. So when we talk about science, we have to consider that it is broader than just the natural sciences and how it is all interconnected. We have the opportunity to bring those interactions into the master plan process.”

Clint Willson, director of the LSU Center for River Studies, home to a state-of-the-art river model for scientific modeling, said, “We have to look at the long-time scale of what the river can do. With our physical model, we’re able to look at that timeline and think about future management strategies. The physical model allows us to look at locations and scale and why we have different project types and where the resources are and how best to use them. We have to look at what is needed in 2029 and where the gaps exist.These are the needs we see and at the end of a few years of research, we can apply them to the plan.”

Stuart Brown, assistant administrator of strategic planning at CPRA, discussed the future scientific challenges, “We are asking for answers to very specific questions to plug into our models. We can fund some on the smaller scale questions but organizations like the National Science Foundation need to help feed into how we model and design projects.”

The Adaptation Forum and the Summit on the Master Plan and Beyond were made possible through the generous support of BHP, Louisiana Sea Grant, Entergy, Chevron and Shell. 

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