La. coastal restoration meetings continue

Although many comments may have been more technical in nature during a Louisiana coastal restoration and protection meeting Wednesday night, a 9-year-old boy from Ascension Parish summed up the general feeling among attendees.

“I just want the Louisiana coast to stay,” Sean Turner, of Prairieville, said, “not be washed away by some dumb oil spill.”

Turner spoke to a crowd of more than 200 people in his role as a National Wildlife Federation conservation promoter. His comments came during the second in a series of three public hearings this week about the state’s annual coastal restoration and protection plan, oil spill restoration planning and the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council’s work in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig disaster and the subsequent RESTORE Act.

The meeting started with a presentation and public comment on the draft of the “Integrated Ecosystem Restoration & Hurricane Protection in Coastal Louisiana: Fiscal Year 2014 Annual Plan,” a blueprint of how $701 million will be spent on projects in fiscal year 2014, said Kyle Graham, deputy executive director with the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

The draft plan also logs progress on the state’s master plan. Public comments will be accepted until March 23 and then the plan will go to CPRA for approval and then onto the state Legislature on April 22 for consideration.

Although about 73 percent of the $701 million will be for construction, the exciting thing is the money that will be available for planning and engineering and design of new projects, Graham said. “The last few years we’ve not had new revenue for projects” he said.

Access to some oil spill money also could help to move new projects into an engineering and design phase, Graham said.

While the room was packed, only four people gave comments about the fiscal year 2014 draft plan. Their concerns ranged from a lack of money for protection strategies, such as the raising of homes in elevation, to sources of funding for such work.

State officials gave a second presentation on how oil spill restoration planning is moving forward and potential projects, including barrier island restoration, freshwater and sediment diversions and oyster reef creation, that could be built based on how much funding is received.

“The intent here is really to give you an overview of what could be expected,” Graham said.

For example, one highlighted project is a diversion from the Mississippi River located in Plaquemines Parish.

“Myrtle Grove is a huge priority for the state,” Graham said about one of several diversions planned to take water and sediment from the river to the nearby marsh.

Graham said these are complicated projects and it takes time to plan not only their construction but how they will be operated as well.

“If everything goes as quickly as possible, my guess is you’re looking at three years before it could go to construction,” Graham said.

As this and other projects move forward with expected BP oil leak fine money and other funding streams, Graham said, there will be a lot of public comment opportunities in the future.

In addition to taking comments on the annual draft plan, Wednesday’s meeting was combined with a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council public comment session.

The council was set up as part of the RESTORE Act and part of its task is to put together a comprehensive plan for Gulf Coast restoration. A draft of that plan is expected to be released this spring for a 30-day comment period.

“We want to make sure this plan is developed with public input, early and often,” said Teresa Christopher, senior adviser for Gulf Restoration with the U.S. Department of Commerce. “We really do want to hear your thoughts.”