For the first time, the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority will be asked to join other state agencies in coming up with budget cuts to deal with a state shortfall, raising concerns among environmentalists and groups representing interests along the Louisiana coastline.
Even with that, the state plans on spending $779 million on coastal restoration and protection in the coming fiscal year, with four restoration projects of more than $100 million each.
The state budget cut will mean about a $2.2 million reduction in the 2016 fiscal year budget, although that amount is subject to change based on what final state budget gets approved.
In addition, the CPRA’s base revenue is tied to mineral revenue, and that is expected to result in a $4 million reduction this coming fiscal year, said Kyle Graham, executive director of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.
A $6.2 million total reduction in budget means the CPRA is putting a few things on the back burner this year, including a plan to build a Bayou Lafourche saltwater control structure as well as a number of CPRA programs.
The programs include the restoration partnership program, the coastal innovation program and a planned contract with an outside firm to help review procedures, policies and other workings of the authority.
Some groups call the cuts to the coastal program a bad sign because this funding has been protected for so many years. Environmental and coastal groups claim the budget cuts would “diminish the CPRA’s ability to do its job, putting communities at risk and slowing down restoration efforts.”
“Up to this point, they have been spared,” said David Muth, director for Mississippi River Delta Restoration for the National Wildlife Federation.
This is an organization tasked with protecting coastal Louisiana, Muth said. Asking it to make budget cuts, “It’s just not a good sign.”
However, even with the budget cuts, the authority plans to spend $779 million for projects, planning and operational expenses. Of that, $503 million — or 65 percent — is planned for project construction. Those numbers could change as the CPRA and the public get a chance to comment on the draft plan’s contents until March 18.
“Our program is shifting away from the $40 million project to really these $100 million-plus projects,” Graham said. The annual plan includes four $100 million-plus projects that will be in some form of construction next year.
These bigger projects include continuation of work on the long-distance sediment pipeline and the Caminada headland projects. Going to construction this coming year will be Shell Island and Whiskey Island restoration projects.
There also will be major developments in planning for coastal restoration projects in the form of sediment diversions intended to take water and sediment from the Mississippi River and place it into adjacent wetlands.
Six diversions in the lower Mississippi River are included in the 2012 coastal restoration and protection master plan.
“This is the year we’re going to be making decisions on diversions,” Graham said.
Results from sediment diversion computer modeling trying to answer questions of size, location and effectiveness should be available in August or September.
The draft annual plan will be presented to the CPRA board on March 25 and the final plan submitted to the state legislature April 17. The state legislature needs to approve the state master plan every five years and the annual plan that outlines spending each fiscal year.
Public meetings on the draft annual plan will be held at the following times and locations:
5:30 p.m. Feb. 9, New Orleans Mosquito, Termite and Rodent Control Board Training Room, 2100 Leon C. Simon Drive, New Orleans.
5:30 p.m. Feb. 10, Lake Charles Civic Center, Jean Lafitte Room, 900 Lakeshore Drive, Lake Charles.
9 a.m. Feb. 11, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Board meeting, Louisiana State Capitol, House Committee Room 6, 900 N. Third St.
5:30 p.m. Feb. 11, Houma Terrebonne Civic Center, Room 3, 346 Civic Center Blvd., Houma.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.