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Corps of Engineers Needs Big-scale Coastal Plan, State Official Says

Posted on November 18, 2015

The federal government’s lack of an overarching plan on how to fight land loss in Louisiana is wasting money that could be spent on fixing the state’s problems, a top Louisiana coastal official told a congressional panel on Friday (Nov. 13). Kyle Graham, executive director of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said Louisiana’s “largest stumbling block” with the Army Corps of Engineers is that agency’s lack of a comprehensive coastal plan.

Nine U.S. House members held a meeting in New Orleans to discuss issues that should be addressed as Congress considers drafting a new water resources bill in 2016. Graham was one of several people invited to speak.

Graham talked in particular about how the corps’ yearly dredging of the Mississippi River does not take into account coastal restoration needs. Instead of dredging the river and allowing precious river sediment to wash into the Gulf of Mexico, he said a better approach would be to divert that sediment into the sinking coast.

“There’s wasted effort,” Graham said. “There’s a consequence for not using that sediment.” The corps and its contractors spends tens of millions of dollars each year keeping the Mississippi channel open for ships by dredging the river.

In 2012, Louisiana created a master plan to guide the state’s efforts to stop land loss and protect the coast from the Gulf of Mexico. The corps, however, does not have a similar document, officials and experts said.After the meeting, Ricky Boyett, a spokesman for the corps, acknowledged that the agency is often hamstrung when it comes to how it dredges the river. But he said the agency does use sediment for land-building purposes when it can.

In recent years, the navigation industry and the corps have pushed to pump sediment from the river into eroding areas near the mouth of the Mississippi. Still, U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, said more can be done. He said using the river sediment more effectively would not only benefit the coast but also navigation on the river, and cut down on the cost of dredging. David Muth, a restoration specialist with the National Wildlife Federation, agreed that the federal government needs to do a better job of coordinating restoration efforts.

Congress passed a water bill in 2014, seven years after the previous water bill. In the past, Congress routinely passed a new water bill every two years, and U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Penn., the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he wanted to “get back to regular business” and pass another water bill in 2016.

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