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Louisiana coastal authority sends $1.7 billion restoration, flood reduction plan to Legislature

Posted on March 18, 2024

A record $1.71 billion annual spending plan for coastal restoration and hurricane protection was unanimously approved for fiscal year 2025 this week by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority board of directors.

The plan includes more than $480 million for the controversial Mid-Barataria and Mid-Breton sediment diversions. A series of public hearings had already been held on the plan, and there were no comments from members of the authority or public before the vote on Thursday to forward it to the Legislature for an up or down vote.

At the Feb. 21 authority board meeting, Lieutenant Gov. Billy Nungesser and officials from Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes, as well as representatives of fisherman organizations opposing the Mid-Baratara diversion, urged the authority to reconsider its support for the $2.92 billion project.

Authority chairman Gordon “Gordy” Dove said at the time that a comprehensive report on all details of the project to date, from budgeting to ongoing legal challenges, was being prepared to give to Gov. Jeff Landry. No mention of that report was made during Thursday’s meeting.

The same public officials and representatives of the fishing community also oppose that $799 million Mid-Breton diversion project for similar reasons, including concerns about increased flood risk from construction of the projects and expected impacts on oyster, shrimp and saltwater finfish catches, as well as expected deaths of bottlenose dolphins living in areas where freshwater from the diversion would make them sick.

The annual plan includes the largest amount of money in the 16-year history of annual spending plans for the authority, and about $90 million more than the current fiscal year. The plan, if approved by the Legislature, begins on July 1.

“We’re happy to say that almost 80% of (the $1.71 billion budget) is going into construction,” CPRA Executive Director Glenn Ledet told the board. “If you think about the 50-year, $50 billion coastal Master Plan, obviously we need to do a billion dollars of work on average a year.”

The plan shows the state’s continued ability to make use of funds from the 2010 BP spill, from offshore oil revenue and other federal and state programs, and state surpluses, to underwrite that cost, he said.

The final version of the annual plan approved Thursday included $30 million more in spending than the draft version the authority reviewed in December 2023, but there were increases and reductions in the amounts to be spent in the upcoming year for several dozen projects.

Approval of the plan was praised by the Restore the Mississippi Delta coalition, which includes the National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Environmental Defense Fund, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Pontchartrain Conservancy.

“Today, the CPRA Board has demonstrated its continued commitment to the people, wildlife and jobs that depend on a stronger, more sustainable Louisiana coast,” the coalition said in a statement.

“With every passing year of our state’s land loss crisis, our communities face more direct impacts from stronger storms, our world-renowned wildlife habitat continues to vanish and our globally significant ports, infrastructure and other economic interests are on the front lines of sea level rise and other risks. We simply don’t have time to lose, and we look forward to continuing to work together with CPRA to prioritize protecting and restoring our coast.”

Included in the final plan are 136 active projects, with $1.35 billion for construction. A big chunk of that money will go toward 19 projects where dredged material will be used to build 12,770 acres — nearly 20 square miles — of new land. The projects are expected to support 11,312 direct jobs, representing $670 million in just labor income.

State funds for individual projects must still be included in various budget legislation approved separately by the Legislature, if the funds have not yet already been appropriated. The biggest source of money in the plan — nearly $900 million — is from fines related to the BP spill.

In the southeast region, which includes projects from east of the Mississippi River to Bayou Lafourche, some key changes include the removal, for now, of nearly $30 million for engineering and design work on a Fritchie Marsh Creation and Terracing project in St. Tammany Parish, and the addition of more than $25 million to the construction budget for the St. Catherine Island Marsh Creation and Shoreline Protection project in New Orleans East.

The ongoing Golden Triangle Marsh Creation project in New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish got an additional $54 million, while the nearby East Orleans Landbridge Restoration engineering and design got cut by $51 million. The plan is still to spend more than $59 million on initial work for that project, though.

The plan also reflects spending $330 million on the River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp project, adjacent to the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain hurricane levee project, which is an increase of $129 million from December.

State officials announced at the meeting that the Maurepas project received $130 million from the Gulf Ecosystem Restoration Council, which oversees spending of Clean Water Act fine money associated with the BP oil spill.

An interactive version of the plan is available online at the CPRA website.


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