Coastal erosion poses multibillion-dollar risk to Baton Rouge economy, LSU study says

While Baton Rouge is not on the “front lines” of Louisiana’s coastal land loss crisis, billions of dollars worth of economic activity are at risk for the city as the Gulf of Mexico continues to swallow wetlands, which are key storm buffers along the coast, according to a new LSU study released today.

Researchers Stephen Barnes and Stephanie Virgets painted a bleak picture for south Louisiana if nothing is done to stem a coastal erosion phenomenon that has led to nearly 2,000 square miles of land being lost to the Gulf over the last 100 years. That number could double over the next 50 years without any action, the researchers warned.

The report provides new insights into how coastal erosion could disrupt billions in economic activity for inland areas like Baton Rouge, Lafayette and Lake Charles, in addition to low-lying coastal areas like New Orleans and Houma.

The disruption of commerce that coastal erosion could have on southern regions like New Orleans and Houma would induce a “ripple” effect into inland regions, decimating local economies, according the report, titled “Regional Impacts of Coastal Land Loss and Louisiana’s Opportunity for Growth.” On the other hand, robust coastal restoration spending could boost the state’s economy.

The largest risk to the Baton Rouge area comes from more powerful storms that coastal erosion is likely to cause, Barnes says. For instance, a storm comparable to Hurricane Rita could lead to nearly $600 million in lost wages and $1.8 billion in lost economic output over the next 50 years in the Capital Region.
“(Coastal erosion) poses a growing threat to coastal cities and towns further inland, and that economic impact reverberates throughout the economy,” Barnes says. “The broader story here is how the Baton Rouge economy is so tightly connected to the rest of the coast.”

The economic links, and risks posed by coastal erosion, between Baton Rouge and New Orleans span “virtually all industries,” he says.

Barnes notes the state has a 50-year action plan to restore wetlands, but the realities have become more dire in the past several years. The “less optimistic” scenarios outlined in the 2012 version of the plan are now the most accurate estimates of what will happen, Barnes says.

The plan, which includes around $750 million per year on coastal restoration projects, also provides a unique economic opportunity, Barnes says. Coastal communities that have long relied heavily on oil and gas can benefit from an influx of jobs and a more diverse economy through the spending.

“We have this really remarkable opportunity to save ourselves by doing a tremendous amount of work,” says Environmental Defense Fund Associate Vice President of Coastal Protection Steve Cochran. “But it’s an opportunity that is finite. We have to act now.”

See the full report.

—Sam Karlin

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