WWL-TV hosts a coastal restoration round table this morning
Read the story here.
State and federal agencies are about to take bids on a $30 million project to repair a barrier island-marsh area in Barataria Bay. Restoration activists, for one, are glad to see it.
But scientists said Louisiana still hasn’t begun the really big projects necessary to save Louisiana’s vanishing coastline.
“We’re in a crisis,” UNO’s Shea Penland said. “Our coastline is collapsing.
A sequence of maps over time shows what scientists have warned about for years – Louisiana is losing 20-to-25 square miles of coastline a year. The soil is eroding. The land subsiding. The sea rising.
“We’re going to see communities wash away,” Penland said. “We’re seeing that happen right now.”
Look at Leeville from the sky. It’s little more than high roads surrounded by water. Coastal restoration activist Windell Curole said it used to be a farming community, “which had orange orchards back in 1900 and a cotton field. Now it’s no more than an exaggerated shoulder of the road.”
And it turns out Louisiana has all the technology and expertise necessary to manufacture the kind of dredges that are building entire islands off of Abu Dhabi in the Middle East right now.
“We built two of them that are over there,” Bob Weta said. “They’re 24-inch dredges. We have two working there as we speak right now.”
One of two dredges manufactured in Louisiana is building massive islands in the Persian Gulf to lure tourists. And in south Louisiana, where the survival of our communities depends on massive earth moving projects like that, forward progress isn’t moving.
“We’re not moving forward with any large-scale restoration,” Penland said.
Healthy marshes and barrier islands once provided Louisiana much greater protection from hurricanes.
PATRICIA TAYLOR, EPA
“These islands are the first line of defense against storm surge,” the Environmental Protection Agency’s Patricia Taylor said. “There’s research that proves that they knock down the storm surge. They protect inland wetlands, and, therefore, communities from the waves of these hurricanes.”
Taylor was involved in a $13 million project with the state to repair and restore this barrier island off of Cocodrie. But Penland and other scientists said that is only like a small gust of wind at a time when south Louisiana’s survival demands a hurricane of restoration activity.
“The magnitude of the loss is phenomenal,” Penland said.
He said some inland communities could find themselves on the waterfront in 20 years.
“We’re going to see Houma on the coast,” he said. “We’re going to see Golden Meadow on the coast.”
From a helicopter you can see part of what he’s talking about. Water has taken over areas once filled with healthy marshes. Industry has slashed canals into the wetlands, adding dramatically to the problem.
Salt water from the Gulf is moving into fresh water areas, killing vegetation that once held the marsh together, killing cypress trees that once provided storm protection, moving the Gulf ever closer to New Orleans.
“We have salt water fish some 40 miles inland,” Curole said.
Curole said the salt water tells you where the gulf is and the closer it gets, the more susceptible we are to flooding.
“People keep talking about restoring the coast,” Curole said. “Before we restore it, we got to stop the loss.”
Curole and Penland both agree – Louisiana has fewer than 10 years to take dramatic action.
“What we need to do is start immediately with dredging to start building land,” Penland said.
The operators of a plant in Reserve said they are now building the kind of dredge that could start filling in some of Louisiana’s marshes. It takes at least a year to build one. But this one won’t be used here.
“It’s going to Cartahena, which is in Colombia, South America,” Weta said. “And it’s going to do a port expansion.”
All kinds of work has gone into plans for restoring Louisiana’s coast. Billions of dollars have been approved for restoration work. But 2½ years after Katrina, Penland and Curole said not a single major project is now underway. The people at Dredging Supply said the massive equipment necessary for the kind of earth moving Louisiana desperately needs isn’t even being built right now.
“The projects haven’t moved forward,” Weta said. “There’s no reason for those dredges to be manufactured or built or people to buy them. There’s no job that’s been assigned.”
Gov. Bobby Jindal has said he wants to bond out the billions in revenue that Louisiana expects from future offshore lease sales so the state can start major restoration before it’s too late.
And Penland said that may be Louisiana’s best hope.
As the clock ticks away on a 10-year window of opportunity, Penland said Louisiana can not afford to wait for the federal government to take action.
Bayou Buzz wrote about a recent campaign “fight” between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on who is more open to funding Louisiana coastal restoration. Clinton was the only one that voted in favor of funding.