Coastal plan targets Southwest La. projects

La. officials: Report only the first step

A federal report on coastal protection and restoration in southwest Louisiana calls for $1.7 billion in projects, a plan that state officials say is an encouraging start but far short of what is needed.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s released a draft report of the plan this month outlining recommended projects in Calcasieu, Cameron and Vermilion parishes.

The plan, which has no funding and is still subject to change, calls for spending $388 million to elevate, flood-proof and move buildings in coastal southwest Louisiana.

It also recommends $1.3 billion in restoration work, including projects for marsh creation, oyster reef preservation, shoreline protection and reforestation.

The restoration projects recommended in the corps study also are part of the state’s own Coastal Master Plan, but the federal report includes less than half of the projects considered vital by the state, said Garret Graves, chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana.

“The fact that the corps calls for restoring the same areas is ideal; however, in total, the report includes only one-third of the restoration identified in the master plan for this region,” Graves said in a written response to questions about the federal study. “The corps’ recommendation includes approximately $1 billion in restoration while the Master Plan includes approximately $3 billion in this area.”

Graves also questioned the lack of proposals for new levees to protect the population centers in southwest Louisiana.

“To exclude any structural protection for areas like Lake Charles, Delcambre, Abbeville and others just fails to pass the common sense test,” he said. “However, after working with the corps for a long time, we’ve learned that you have to take what you can get and just consider it the first phase. In this case, we will work to try to include hurricane protection levees and more restoration as this report moves through the process.”

The corps’ study had considered a 122-mile levee that would run along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway across southwest Louisiana, as well as smaller levees around the population centers, but the study dismissed most of those ideas as too costly for the relative benefits.

On the restoration side, the corps study recommends projects to create or nourish 8,579 acres of marsh, to protect about 51 miles of shoreline, plant trees on 1,413 acres in Cameron and Vermilion parishes, control the amount of salt water moving inland through waterways and preserve the historic Sabine oyster reef.

The portion of the corps study that addresses structures, such as homes and businesses, could affect an estimated 3,915 buildings by 2025.

Of those, 3,665 were identified for elevation, 247 were identified for flood-proofing measures that could include small berms or ring levees, and three homes were identified for removal.

The associate administrator for Cameron Parish, Ryan Bourriaque, said he would prefer to see a plan more focused on restoration and controlling saltwater intrusion and less on individual structures, which he believes could more easily be dealt with through other state and federal programs.

Even assuming funding is secured, there are several more steps in the federal approval process and work is not expected to begin for at least five years, said Darrel Broussard, a senior project manager with the corps.

“It will take some hard lobbying to get construction funding for this project. The best case scenario for now is that the state continue to cherry-pick priority components of the report while we continue to work on federal funds,” Graves said.

The corps is hosting two meetings in January to answer questions and accept public comments on the coastal study.

The first is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 7 at the Lake Charles Civic Center.

The second is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 9 at the Abbeville branch of the Vermilion Parish Library.