The Wednesday showdown vote over a proposal to divert excess Deepwater Horizon settlement funds to La. 1 elevation work didn’t occur because late-night negotiations resulted in a compromise that could channel money from another revenue source to the highway project.
“I realize this has been a contentious issue,” said Chip Kline, chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority board. “I know a number of you have been put in a very difficult spot because of this resolution.”
Despite that divide, members of each group came together and, through a lot of back and forth Tuesday evening, came up with a solution, he said.
The compromise called for the proposal to use extra money from certain Deepwater Horizon civil penalties to be withdrawn. Instead, the board agreed to work on the funding priorities for money it receives from the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act. The proposal approved Wednesday would allow up to 10 percent of the money to be spent on coastal infrastructure directly impacted by coastal land loss.
When GOMESA was passed in 2006 to give states a greater share of offshore oil and gas revenue, it included a provision that 10 percent of the money could be spent on coastal infrastructure.
“This is a more appropriate revenue stream for this project,” Kline said, adding that it will help get money for the project much sooner than Gov. Bobby Jindal’s RESTORE Act proposal. Jindal’s proposal was presented at the September CPRA meeting.
Many groups and individuals expressed concerns that it would set a bad precedent, that it might represent the first of many attempts to siphon off coastal money from the settlement and it could hurt the state in pursuing additional federal funding.
After years of working together, the original proposal had created rifts within the coastal community that includes the La. 1 Coalition and coastal restoration groups. However, the compromise proposal approved Wednesday seemed to show that those rifts could be short term.
“To say this has become a contentious issue is an understatement,” said Ted Falgout, chairman of the La. 1 Coalition who has worked in coastal restoration for years. “We all lose if we’re not pulling in the same direction in coastal restoration, and we realize that.”
The Governor’s Office also issued a statement of support for the deal.
“We are pleased with the board’s decision today to ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to support ongoing coastal restoration efforts,” the statement says. “This decision allows us to build upon the $375 million dollars already invested on La. 1 infrastructure to ensure sustainability of our coastal resources.”
Not everyone was happy about the proposal to use GOMESA money for the road.
“It’s a sad day,” said Scott Eustis with the Gulf Restoration Network.
State Rep. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette, said coastal restoration has to remain a priority when explaining he would not oppose the substitute motion.
“I’m not arguing against it. This is a kumbaya moment,” he said.
However, the new proposal received praise from board members and coastal groups, including America’s WETLAND Foundation and members of Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition.
“The resolution presented today is an example of diverse coastal interests working together cooperatively on practical solutions that can help ensure a viable future for our delta and other vital coastal areas, our communities, and the economic activities that serve the state and nation,” according to a joint statement from the foundation and coalition.
State Sen. Dan Morrish, R-Jennings, CPRA board member, said the substitute proposal is fair to every coastal parish that now would have a chance to try to apply for part of the funding.
Steve Cochran, Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition director, said the member organizations appreciated being in on the discussions and were in support of the new proposal.
“It’s a fair resolution, and I think it’s the right thing,” Morrish said. “If we pass this resolution today, we’re sending a message to the rest of the country that we have done the right thing.”
“What we’ve done today is quite frankly, relook at the law as it is, and the law has always said that 10 percent needs to go to capital improvements,” said King Milling, CPRA board member. “Then the balance of these funds will go toward the restoration of this state.”
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter @awold10.