Louisiana’s physical footprint could be determined over next 10 years, coastal protection chair says

New money from the federal government and BP give Louisiana a historic opportunity to expand its coastal protection and restoration efforts, says Chip Kline, chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Board and executive assistant to the governor for coastal activities.

“In the next 10 years, we will likely determine the footprint of the state of Louisiana,” Kline told the Press Club of Baton Rouge today. “Big decisions are coming.”

For fiscal year 2015-16, CPRA has an operating budget of more than $880 million, with nearly $600 million going to construction of coastal restoration and hurricane protection projects, Kline says. If an agreement reached in principle with BP to settle claims for oil spill damage is accepted by the court, Louisiana would receive an additional $500 million per year over the next 15 years “to address the injuries from the spill and put our coast on a path to sustainability,” he said.

And if it survives the federal budget process, additional revenue from offshore energy exploration would add another $140 million per year.

“You’re going to see money coming into this program that we’ve never seen the likes of before,” Kline said.

That means moving away from “smaller-scale restoration projects” to projects in the $300 million to $400 million range with “more of a substantial impact” on saltwater intrusion and coastal land loss, he said.

Additional sediment diversions from the Mississippi River, which are often controversial, will be needed to build more land, Kline said. And not all of what’s left of coastal Louisiana can be saved. For example, the “bird’s foot delta” of Louisiana is not a big priority in the state’s coastal master plan, he said.

“You’ve got to take a step back and really look and think big picture: Which areas can be saved and should be saved?” Kline said, adding that as those decisions are made,

CPRA will continue to be transparent in its planning and continue meeting with affected stakeholders. Kline said the CPRA board will discuss which projects will be funded with BP dollars at its meeting next month. Some projects will not directly address damage caused by the BP spill, he said, but are priorities in the state’s coastal master plan “that will ultimately complement one another.”

Kline urged lawmakers to make sure new funds designated for coastal protection and restoration remain in the state’s coastal trust fund and are used for the intended purposes. He also urged all candidates for governor and the Legislature to make coastal protection and restoration, including finding a permanent funding stream, a “centerpiece” of their campaigns.

The state’s current master plan envisions spending $50 billion over 50 years. Saving the coast is doable, Kline said, but “we can’t just keep taking small bites here and there.”

—David Jacobs

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