Coastal Louisiana land loss worth price to fix, study will attempt to show

BURAS — With a 50-year, $50 billion coastal restoration and protection plan to pay for, the state is gearing up with evidence to convince the rest of the country that the price tag is worth it.

The state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority started a new study in May that will quantify the worth of south Louisiana and just how much the rest of the country has to lose if nothing is done to stem coastal land loss or make coastal communities more secure.

“Try to understand the financial implications of future land loss and flood impacts,” Charles Sutcliffe, policy adviser with the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, told Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority members at their Wednesday meeting.

This Coast-wide Economic Impact Evaluation will be done in cooperation with LSU and the RAND Corporation and will include a steering committee made up of representatives from government agencies, businesses and coastal researchers.

Sutcliffe said the purpose of this study, which should be done by May, is to answer what is financially at stake along Louisiana’s coast. The study will look at numerous aspects of that question including jobs, business revenues, amount of river, truck and rail traffic through the area, housing stock, fisheries, agriculture, gasoline prices and the value of the coastal ecosystem itself.

“It helps to make our case as we go forward to get money to implement the plan,” explained Jerome Zeringue, authority chairman and the director for Coastal Activities in the Governor’s Office.

In other business, the authority members heard familiar pleas both for and against river diversions being planned by the state that would take fresh water and sediment from the Mississippi River and divert it into wetland areas outside the levee. Although a number of these types of diversions are being planned, the one that is the furthest along is planned for Myrtle Grove.

Plaquemines Parish is the heart of where many of these diversions will be located and it’s also a hotbed of fishing activity where many want answers on what diversions will do to fishing stock and habitat.

It has spurred fishermen to form and join an organization called Save Louisiana Coalition to convince the state that large diversions shouldn’t be pursued.

“They (diversions) will effect this parish greatly,” said Capt. George Ricks, of the Save Louisiana Coalition.

Clint Guidry, president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, said fishermen are told decisions will be based on science, but they remain skeptical.

“I notice you guys have a very bad habit of cherry-picking science,” Guidry said.

The main concern about the diversions comes from the amount of fresh water that would be introduced into diversion areas. Some fishermen are convinced it will destroy fishing as they know it.

Other fishermen say those fears are unfounded and past experience tells them that some of the best fishing is where these diversions reinvigorate areas.

Capt. Ryan Lambert, owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures, said lots of water runs through Baptiste Collette from the Mississippi River, and during shrimp season you can see 50 or more boats shrimping in the area. In addition, he said, any fears that diversions will damage wetlands or destroy the marsh are moot. He pointed to the 31 place names that were removed from maps last year along the eastern side of Plaquemines Parish because continuing land loss had made these bays and bayous simply open water.

“Don’t tell me a diversion is going to destroy the marsh; it’s gone,” Lambert said.

In the meantime, the state, the Water Institute of the Gulf, LSU and others are working on studies and projects to not only better determine what the impacts could be, but also to find ways to communicate that information to the public.

Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.