Carville: More attention on benefits, not costs of coastal restoration

When James Carville hears talk about coastal restoration and protection plans for Louisiana, he gets annoyed when the focus is on how much it’s going to cost to find stability for south Louisiana.

“I’m thinking about how much money we’ll make off it,” Carville, a political consultant, told the audience of several hundred attending the State of the Coast meeting Tuesday in New Orleans.

The meeting is held every two years, organized by the nonprofit Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, The Water Institute of the Gulf and the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority with the help of numerous sponsors.

It’s a three-day chance for scientists, engineers and others working on coastal restoration and protection in Louisiana to share information and network.

As the opening keynote speaker, Louisiana native Carville applauded the scientists and others working on practical approaches to address the eroding, sinking and generally disappearing coastal wetlands.

The Dutch decided in the 1950s that they weren’t going to lose their country to storms and the encroaching sea, and dedicated their efforts and financial resources to meet that goal, Carville said.

Now, he said, the Dutch are the world experts on living with water and protection against storms, and that is a major export for the country.

That need for expertise is going to grow as more delta communities around the world are faced with the challenges presented by sea level rise that is bringing water closer and closer to communities.

“In Louisiana, you could theoretically move everyone behind the I-10/I-12 line. I’m not going, but you could do it theoretically,” said Carville, who lives in New Orleans.

Louisiana is poised, with the help of scientists like the ones attending the State of the Coast conference, to be that expert in the future for the world on how to live with water.

The greatest export from Louisiana 50 to 75 years from now, he said, after all the oil and gas is gone, should be the state’s expertise on how to deal with the challenges of a rising sea level.

“I think that the challenge of what you’re doing here is probably the most historic thing done in this state,” Carville said.

The executive assistant to Gov. Bobby Jindal for coastal issues, Jerome Zeringue, also chairman of the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, emphasized the urgency of what people at the conference have come to discuss.

“The fact that there are those who don’t recognize the significance of the issue (of coastal land loss) makes it more important to us what we’ll discuss at this conference,” he said. “Saving coastal Louisiana is not a regional issue. It’s not a state issue. It is a national issue.”

Since the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority was formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to bring together the efforts of coastal restoration and hurricane protection, Zeringue said, the state has spent more on levees and wetland creation than in preceding decades.

There’s much more to do as the state moves forward with implementing the 2012 Master Plan, which includes plans for $50 billion to be spent over the next 50 years in south Louisiana.

More could be spent, he said, but the $50 billion was a point that planners thought was within reach.

The conference will continue in New Orleans on Wednesday and Thursday.