WASHINGTON — Politicians and community leaders from the five Gulf Coast states took the fight to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to release the first coastal awareness and protection report and recommendations that were completed with all the coastal states working together.
The “Beyond Unintended Consequences: Adaptation for Gulf Coast Resiliency and Sustainability” report from New Orleans’ America’s Wetland Foundation was the result of 14 months of research and forums through a commission chaired by Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne.
“We want this to be a wake-up call to our country, really,” Dardenne said at the Capitol.
He cited the need to preserve the Gulf Coast’s ecosystems and cultures that serve as the gateway for the nation’s economic corridor through the Mississippi River and the first line of defense against storms like Hurricane Isaac.
As is often mentioned, Louisiana is losing more than a football field an hour through coastal erosion. About 25 square miles of state marsh and coastline are lost annually.
The new report has 30 recommendations in five key categories:
- “Seek urgent federal action” by resolving conflicting federal policies and practices, such as Congress each year raiding the federal Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund dollars that are supposed to go to river dredging and port projects.
- “Deploy multiple lines of offense” by decreasing regional vulnerabilities through cooperative action. The focus must shift to a long-term vision for building more levees, vegetated forestry ridges and marshlands.
- “Allow innovation and enterprise to flourish” by supporting strategies to facilitate regional stewardship. Provide things like tax credits for private businesses doing extra mitigation marsh creation. Boost funding for constructed oyster reefs.
- “Revitalize regional strengths and pride” by empowering communities to practice self-determination. Coastal degradation and mounting vulnerabilities threaten entire communities, cultures and a valued way of life.
- “Sustain action based on recommendations” by communicating regional visions for resiliency. The degradation of the Gulf Coast will continue to accelerate without a robust, coordinated response that enlists every level of government, the report said.
America’s Wetland Foundation Chairman R. King Milling said the new report is intended to work with and in support
of the state’s $50 billion
coastal protection and restoration plan approved by the
state Legislature earlier this year.
Milling said the flooding caused by Isaac in many areas proved the federal government is still largely reactionary and not heeding all that was learned from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“The damage continues,” Milling said. “The nation has not learned its lesson, unfortunately.”
Milling praised the RESTORE Act that recently became law, giving 80 percent of the fines from the 2010 BP oil leak to the affected Gulf Coast states.
The fines could end up approaching $20 billion.
He also complimented the 2006 Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act that will allow Louisiana to share 37.5 percent of the royalties the federal government receives from new drilling in 8.3 million acres in the Gulf. But that law does not fully kick in until 2017.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who sponsored both bills, had strong words for the restoration efforts.
“We need our federal government to step up the pace and not just when a hurricane is barreling down,” Landrieu said.
She said support should not only come when “people are swimming for their lives” or when a couple drowns to death in their own home in Brathwaite.
“This is a national tragedy — a culture that is being lost,” Landrieu said.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., praised the upgraded hurricane protection system for the New Orleans area since Katrina, but much work remains to better protect the many surrounding areas in southern Louisiana that remain vulnerable with federal projects proposed but not funded.
“The remaining challenge is enormous,” Vitter said.
Landrieu said she expects the BP fine dollars to either be settled or determined in court within six to 18 months.