14 December 2006

The State's Coastal Restoration and Protection Planning Effort

The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority which was created by the Louisiana Legislature after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to address coastal restoration and protection issues has generated their Preliminary Draft report: Comprehensive Coastal Protection Master Plan for Louisiana. This report presents the concepts for future coastwide restoration and protection and will be used to guide future expenditures, planning, and engineering designs. This is one of several parallel planning efforts, including efforts by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that will be used by Congress to fund our future protection. The State is accepting comments on the Preliminary Draft report until January 5, 2007.

This may be one of the single most important documents for the future of coastal Louisiana. The restoration of one of the most complex and productive ecosystems in North America and the protection of people and infrastructure in all of coastal Louisiana are at stake. It is absolutely imperative that all concerned citizens of coastal Louisiana read, understand, and comment on this report. While reading the report think about the following very important questions:

1. Are the proposed components of this plan complementary or are components being proposed that cannot work together?

2. Is this a sustainable plan?

3. Once implemented, do the proposed components require long-term funding for operations and maintenance? If so, how will this be funded?

4. What will be lost (e.g., environmental, cultural, aesthetic) in order to provide protection for urban areas?

5. Who will benefit financially from the implementation of this plan? Does this cause a conflict of interest?

6. Is this based on sound science? Are the references used to support the concepts in the plan convincing to you?

7. How long will this take to construct and fully implement?

8. How does these project components support core Louisiana industries that are coastal dependent (e.g., fisheries, oil and gas)?

I have briefly reviewed the report and will share some of my initial concerns. Thirty plus years of estuarine research in coastal Louisiana by the best wetland scientists in the world has illustrated that levees, spoil banks, associated borrow ditches and canals greatly impact the hydrologic connectivity of the coastal wetlands and are a major component of wetland loss. However, the Preliminary Draft report recommends a complex levee system across the entire deltaic plain. Termed a leaky levee because the levees do not cross major waterways, they will still dramatically alter the hydrology of our coastal marshes, will exacerbate the rate of wetland loss, are not compatible with large-scale, sustainable marsh restoration projects such as river diversions, and have extremely high maintenance costs. The concept of levees paralleling our coastline contradicts all of the best research conducted at LSU, ULL, SLU, UNO, and Tulane, and the Preliminary Draft report illustrates this by only providing eleven literature citations for the entire report, only one of which is from peer-reviewed literature. Very disappointing. Coastal restoration opportunities are described in the report, but the benefits from most of these are negated by the levee recommendations.

Another thing to note: this report was prepared by Shaw. Shaw is a very large engineering consulting firm that primarily designs and constructs large infrastrucure projects, is headquartered in Baton Rouge, and has very close (intimate, actually) ties with Governor Blanco. Professionally, it is a conflict of interest to allow a large engineering firm that would greatly benefit from massive levee construction along our coast to prepare a report that should be focused on coastal restoration. Many local planning and engineering firms that do not provide construction management support are located in Louisiana and are more than capable of water resources planning efforts at this scale without any real or perceived conflict of interest. With that in mind, there is one more question to ask while reviewing this report: Is this a product of business as usual in Louisiana, where big politically-connected companies and their CEOs get richer on boondoggle projects that do not solve our long-term problems?

TAGS: Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Louisiana, Coastal Restoration, Shaw Group, US Army Corps of Engineers, Blanco


At December 15, 2006 7:22 PM, Anonymous Karen said...

Does anyone in this State understand Conflict of Interest?
Shaw? anyone?.....

At December 16, 2006 11:13 AM, Blogger bayoustjohndavid said...

The conflict of interest is easy to point out. Unfortunately, there's an equally large problem that will be more difficult to correct. The rest of S. Louisiana has been sold on both coastal restoration and levees. I suspect that some will ask why levees for N.O. and not the rest of south La. If it's only debated in terms of cost-- it cheaper to build and maintin levees around a city than across an entire state-- and not in terms of the ecological effects of such a massive project, the politics will mess everything up.


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