Louisiana may have more than $20 billion lined up for coastal restoration and protection work over the next 50 years, but that’s about $70 billion short of what’s needed, according to a new report from the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy.
Although additional money has been designated for coastal work from the Deepwater Horizon settlement, expected additional oil and gas revenue and other sources, it’s important for people to realize how much more will be needed, the report’s authors say.
Mark Davis, director of the Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy and chairman of the state coastal board, said the report doesn’t question the validity of the state’s master plan or suggest that all the money already should be in the bank.
H e said the report is meant to educate policymakers on what it will cost to implement the state’s master plan and stimulate discussions about how those financial needs can be met.
“When this country committed to building a highway system or the space program, we didn’t have a life cycle of funding already committed,” Davis said. “But we made the commitment to find the money. We’re really trying to get people thinking about what it will take to get across the goal.”
Although the master plan estimated $50 billion will be needed over the next 50 years, the “Financing the Future” report says that number is closer to $100 billion, given inflation over that time.
In an environment where the mantra is that we should do more with less, that no one should pay additional taxes and the federal government should pay more, it’s important to remind people that the coastal plan won’t pay for itself, Davis said.
“Somebody’s got to pay, and if we choose not to invest in this, we’re all going to lose the coast and lose the culture,” he said.
Because identified funding sources add up to only about $21 billion, Davis said, the funding gap shows a need to get creative about finding money and also that money earmarked for coastal restoration and protection should not be diverted to other uses.
That potential was highlighted when the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority last month considered diverting surplus RESTORE Act money from coastal projects toward the elevation of La. 1.
“We look at this, and we don’t see surplus,” Davis said.
Chip Kline, executive assistant to the governor on coastal activities, said it’s no mystery to the state that more money will be needed in the future for coastal restoration. He said some people have a fundamental misunderstanding about the plan and its funding.
“You don’t fund the master plan; you fund individual projects included in the master plan,” Kline said in an email response. “In the near term, the oil spill dollars will provide a predictable funding source that will allow us to continue doing exactly that. Some master plan projects are 30 to 50 years down the road. No one is going to give us money today for something that far in the future. And, since the master plan is updated every five years (the next is due in 2017), those down-the-road projects may be replaced on the list in future updates.”
Kline wrote that the state and the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which drafts the coastal master plan, agree that it’s crucial to protect funding for these projects.
“Saving our coast is essential; it is sustainable, and we are saving our coast right now,” he wrote. We have more momentum behind this program than ever before; we have a lot to be proud of, but everyone acknowledges more work is absolutely needed.”
In addition to the work outlined in the state master plan, there are a number of critical needs not included in the plan that also will require funding, from the maintenance of navigation channels to the management of rainwater inside levee-protected areas.
Louisiana expects to receive about $6.8 billion from the Deepwater Horizon settlements. The state also will get a higher share of offshore oil and gas revenue in the next couple of years, adding several hundred million dollars more to the pot. But even with other federal and state funding sources added in, the report says, it won’t be enough to cover the entire plan.
When disaster-related or one-time money isn’t accounted for, the annual funding for the plan between fiscal year 2012 to 2018 accounts only for about $386 million. That means when those additional disaster monies run out, the state is facing a large gap to make up the annual funding needed to pay for the program.
While federal money from the 2005 hurricane season and private money from the Deepwater Horizon disaster are a great infusion of cash, Davis said, it’s not a solution.
“Calamity can not be your financial plan,” Davis said.
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