CPRA gets first look at state’s 2017 coastal plan

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated since original publication to correct the cost of projects in the draft plan. The correct amount is $50 billion. Daily Report regrets the error.

The state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority board got its first look today at the 2017 Draft Coastal Master Plan, an updated version of the agency’s 2012 plan that includes 120 potential projects that, if fully funded, would cost some $50 billion over the next half century.

While the plan will identify some $50 billion worth of what CPRA Chief of Planning Bren Haase calls “plausible” projects, the state doesn’t have anywhere near $50 billion in hand. However, CPRA officials are confident that as much as $15 billion to $18 billion will flow to the state over the next 15 years, enabling many of these projects to get started. Those funds will come from a variety of sources, including settlement money from the BP oil spill, federal legislation and state capital outlay.

“We’re trying to identify those projects that are no-brainers, no matter what the future scenario might be,” says Bren Haase, chief of planning at the CPRA. “We know what we have to do to direct our investment in the near term to make sure we’re doing the smartest thing we can with our money.”

While the list and the hefty price tag are both ambitious, today’s CPRA hearing at the State Capitol underscored why it’s so important for the agency to move forward with the plan. Coastal land loss continues at an alarming rate. The state is expected to lose some 2,000 square miles of coastal land over the next 50 years—and that’s even if the state completes all the projects in the updated master plan, which will preserve or maintain some 800 square miles.

“Even with the 800 square miles, we’re still looking at 2,000,” said Sen. Norbèrt Chabert, R-Houma, and a CPRA board member. “It’s kind of misleading to stay we’re restoring the coast. It’s an effort to restore the coast. We’re at the point of diminishing returns.”

Haase also shared with the board another sobering statistic. Sea levels have risen so much that the CPRA has had to reconfigure its planning matrix to estimate future sea level increases.

“What we are using in 2017 for ‘low’ estimates of sea level rise resembles the ‘high’ rise that was evaluated for the 2012 plan,” he said. “So the worst case scenario of our 2012 plan is the best case scenario now.”

Of the $50 billion worth of projects called for in the plan, $25 billion would be spent on restoration projects while the other $25 billion would go to “risk reduction” projects.

Public hearings will be held around the state in the coming weeks to allow for public input on the plan. The CPRA board will ultimately vote to approve it in mid-April, after which time it will go to the state Legislature for approval.

“There’s no question we can’t restore our coast to historic levels,” Haase said. “But we can end up with some net gain and do a lotta good for a lotta folks.”

—Stephanie Riegel

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