Inside Report for Jan. 8, 2013

State program now considering bank erosion

By Amy Wold

Advocate staff writer

The state coastal program slightly softened its stance on not providing funds to coastal projects involving restoration of navigation channel banks while the state continues to work toward getting federal agencies to take on the full responsibility for these eroding areas.

At the Nov. 28 Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority meeting, the authority passed a policy that commits to working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Congress to clarify the corps’ “definition of ‘operations and maintenance’ to more-unequivocally include bank stabilization responsibilities.”

This policy also states that no proposed project through the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) that has more than 25 percent of the money going to bank stabilization of federal channels be considered for construction.

This is different from a decision by the authority in July 2011 to support a position that coastal funds from CWPPRA shouldn’t be used to build up the eroding banks on federally authorized navigation channels. Instead, that responsibility should lie with the federal government, the state said.

The authority had set up a working group to look into the issue. The group worked with the Tulane Institute on Water Resources, Law and Policy and found that issue of who is responsible for the bank stabilization is complicated.

“The Tulane report determined that Corps (of Engineers) obligations depend highly on the channel in question and can even vary widely depending on the particular stretch of channel being discussed,” according to the working group’s report. However, the increasing width of many navigation channels has led to wetland loss, the report stated.

In general, the working group made a number of recommendations, including continuing to work with the corps to get the corps funding to fully take care of maintenance and operations costs, work with Congress to clarify what operation and maintenance means for federal projects, and continue to plan for a way to transition from using CWPPRA funds to maintain navigation channel banks.

Garret Graves, authority chairman, has asserted at numerous public meetings that the operation and maintenance for these navigation channels includes making sure the banks don’t erode and break through into surrounding marshes. Using coastal restoration money from resources like CWPPRA to do something that should be included as federal maintenance means less money is available for purely coastal restoration projects, he said.

“Since the inception of the CWPPRA program in the early 1990s, over 110,000 acres of wetlands have been successfully restored in Louisiana,” according to a report from the authority’s legal and policy working group. “In this same period, $78 million in CWPPRA funds, more than six percent of total project funding, was diverted to navigation channel bank maintenance or stabilization.”

David Richard, authority member, has consistently pushed back on the July 2011 decision to ignore projects that include navigation bank stabilization. Although he agreed with the state in principle that the bank stabilization should be federally funded, the reality is that navigation banks continue to erode and cause damage to interior marshes, he has said.

Amy Wold is an environmental reporter at The Advocate. She can be reached at awold@theadvocate.com or follow her at
@awold10 on Twitter.