Coastal restoration talks set

Public invited to discuss  La.’s draft plan

A series of three public meetings will be held this week along Louisiana’s Gulf Coast to take comments from the public about the state’s draft plan laying out how money will be spent on coastal restoration and protection in fiscal year 2014.

The meetings will offer presentations to attendees along with a chance for them to comment on Deepwater Horizon Oil spill restoration planning as well as receive briefings on planning being done by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. The council was set up as part of the RESTORE Act.

First up during each evening meeting will be a presentation and public comment period focusing on the state’s annual draft plan for coastal restoration and protection.

“The annual plan reflects the priorities and what the Legislature agreed to in the master plan,” said Jerome Zeringue, director of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

The authority is required under state law to put together a state master plan every five years showing the direction and priorities of coastal restoration and protection work. In addition, the authority is required to put together a yearly plan that lays out budgets, funding sources and project schedules for the upcoming fiscal year and beyond.

The draft “Integrated Ecosystem Restoration & Hurricane Protection in Coastal Louisiana: Fiscal Year 2014 Annual Plan” also gives an overview of work that has gone on during the past year. The draft plan is available for public inspection at http://coastal.louisiana.gov/.

The annual plan estimates that about $700 million will be spent on projects during the fiscal year starting July 1 and extending through June 30, 2014. About 73 percent of that money will go toward construction of projects called for in the draft plan.

Other expenditures included in the $700 million range from engineering and design of projects, planning and operating costs to ongoing programs and operation, maintenance and monitoring of projects.

“We were fortunate that the Legislature provided surplus dollars,” Zeringue said about appropriations in past years.

Although the draft plan estimates that more than $600 million will be spent in fiscal year 2015 and $260 million in fiscal year 2016, the numbers reflect the fact that more of those projects being built with the $1 billion in surplus money are getting completed, he said.

At the same time that construction is going on, he said, the state is continuing to move forward with the engineering and design of projects in order to have them ready if and when additional money becomes available.

The comment period deadline for the state’s draft annual plan is March 23. Written comments should be mailed (to arrive no later than March 23) to the following address: Coastal Protection & Restoration Authority, c/o Chuck Perrodin, P.O. Box 44027, Baton Rouge, LA 70804-4027.

In addition to taking comments on the annual plan, the meetings will be combined with a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council public comment session.

The council was set up as part of Congress’ RESTORE Act, which channels a record $1 billion or more in Clean Water Act civil penalties to the five Gulf of Mexico states affected by the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana’s coast.

Part of the council’s task is to put together a Comprehensive Plan for Gulf Coast restoration. The council released “The Path Forward to Restoring the Gulf Coast” document in January and is set to release a draft of the full comprehensive plan this spring.

The three meetings in Louisiana to discuss the state’s annual plan and the council’s work will all begin with an open house at 5 p.m. followed by presentations and public comment opportunities.

The meetings are scheduled for the following days and locations:

  • Tuesday: Terrebonne Civic Center, 346 Civic Center Blvd., Room 3, Houma.
  • Wednesday: University of New Orleans, Homer Hitt Alumni Center Ballroom, 2000 Lakeshore Drive, New Orleans.
  • Thursday: Lake Charles Civic Center, Jean Lafitte Room, 900 Lakeshore Drive, Lake Charles.

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council plans to hold additional, more formal, public meetings along the coast in the future, according to a news release from the council.