Key Louisiana coastal project facing five-year wait for federal permits

An official with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told a standing-room-only crowd at the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority board meeting in New Orleans today that it will likely be 2022 before the federal agency decides whether to issue permits to allow the Mid Barataria Sediment Diversion project to go forward.

The project is a key cog in the state’s coastal policy and would help rebuild coastal land by diverting sediment from the Mississippi River into an area of the Barataria Basin south of New Orleans.

The announcement that permitting the project could take five years—to say nothing of the years of construction that would follow—came from Col. Michael Clancy, who provided an update to the CPRA board during its monthly meeting. His projection took many in the room by surprise. Gov. John Bel Edwards recently petitioned the federal government to fast-track the diversion project, along with several others, that are part of the CPRA master plan.

Even with the project on the federal “dashboard,” as the fast-track process is called, however, Clancy said the process is lengthy and complex, and a decision date on permits likely won’t come before 2022.

“That may sound like a long way off,” he said. “But we have a plan, we have a timeline … and everybody is on board and aware of the plan. And it is a living plan, so we will update the CPRA as required.”

CPRA board members were not pleased. Chairman Johnny Bradberry said waiting five years for permits on such an important project is “not acceptable.”

“We are going to push hard to get that expedited,” Bradberry said. “If you look at where we are that is just not acceptable. The leadership in the Corps knows this. We are going to push every damned day on this.”

Other board members were equally troubled.

“I was looking for good news. It appears there is none,” said CPRA board member Bill Hidalgo, who is president of the St. Mary Parish Levee District. “Will we ever get permits?”

Permitting delays is one of the main reasons coastal projects take so long to get to the shovel-ready stage, and engineers, contractors and CPRA members alike are frustrated by the system.

Clancy acknowledged their frustrations today.

“(These permits) are hard and painful,” he said. “I understand that. If you have suggestions, please let us know. We will try to do something … or pass those suggestions up to Washington.”

—Stephanie Riegel

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