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$50 billion plan to restore, protect Louisiana coast advances through House committee

The state has a $50 billion plan for shoring up Louisiana’s coast. Courtesy of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority
The state has a $50 billion plan for shoring up Louisiana’s coast. Courtesy of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority

Louisiana’s most recent plan to restore and protect its coast at a cost of $50 billion advanced Wednesday through the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment.

The coastal master plan is updated by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority every six years, as required by state law. It lays out the 50-year future for Louisiana’s coast in terms of coastal land loss and flood risk–with and without its implementation.

The plan represents a vital need in a state that has lost more than 2,000 square miles of land, an area the size of Delaware, since the 1930s, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Louisiana’s problems are exacerbated by devastating hurricanes and rising seas from climate change.

Though the coastal plan rests on the latest science and engineering, it also emerges from a highly public process. The coastal authority received more than 200 public comments and held close to 100 public meetings in South Louisiana about the plan, the coastal protection board’s chairman, Kyle R. "Chip" Kline Jr., said.

The plan is being translated into Spanish, French and Vietnamese, Kline said.

The plan dedicates its largest chunk–$19 billion–to dredging projects. Dredging allows sediment and other materials from one area to be used to restore coastal land elsewhere.

The plan allocates $2.5 billion to programs like barrier island maintenance, shoreline protection and oyster reef restoration. It calls for $14 billion for 12 structural risk reduction projects including levees, flood gates and storm surge barriers.

Another $11.2 billion goes to nonstructural risk reduction projects, like raising and floodproofing homes and businesses. This money can also be used for “voluntary acquisition,” though Kline seemed to reject the idea that widespread migration from the coast will be necessary.

“You continue to hear the scientific community…give all of these dire scenarios as it relates to climate change and sea level rise and that we need to relocate mass populations across Louisiana,” Kline said. But the coastal authority has a more hopeful vision for the future in its plan.

“This level of investment could mean that in 50 years, under the lower environmental scenario, Louisiana has less flood risk from hurricanes and tropical storms than we do today,” Kline said.

The plan lays out predictions for the coast in consideration of lower and higher environmental scenarios, but these scenarios are not equally likely, Kline explained at a coastal authority board meeting in January.

“The more realistic scenario of what the science is actually projecting is the lower scenario,” Kline said. But the coastal master plan prepares for the possibility, though less likely, Kline said, of a high-end scenario with more severe sea level rise and more intense storms.

Kline noted at Wednesday’s committee meeting that all the coastal projects in the state have withstood the test of powerful storms in recent years.

The committee also moved forward the coastal authority’s 2024 fiscal plan, which Kline called another record-breaking year for the coastal program.

Some yearslong projects are finally in construction, meaning 80% of the coastal authority’s spending is toward construction.

But close to 80% of the coastal program’s funding is from the BP oil spill settlement. And in 2032, that money will dry up.

“If there’s one thing that really keeps me up at night, it’s that,” Kline said.

Lawmakers expressed support for finding new avenues to keep the coastal projects afloat. In a legislative session marked by battles over the budget and cultural issues, coastal protection efforts are a largely unifying topic.

Members of the committee praised the coastal authority’s work on the plan. At one point, Kline lifted his leg up from under the wooden testimony table to reveal a pair of CPRA socks gifted to him for Christmas by committee member Rep. Joseph A. Orgeron, R-Larose.

In South Louisiana, the health of the coast is an issue that precedes all others.

“We could have the best hospital in the world, but it’s worthless if it has 5 feet of water in it,” Kline said.