Although the man taking the helm of the state’s coastal restoration authority may not be as well-known as his predecessors, the transition should be smooth because he’s been involved with Louisiana’s coastal issues for about seven years, officials said.
Chip Kline has been named chairman of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Board as well as director of the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, replacing Jerome Zeringue, who has served in those positions for about a year.
Zeringue, who took over after Garret Graves stepped down in February 2014 to make a successful run for Congress, had a long history with coastal and levee issues when he took over the top job.
With a background that included The Nature Conservancy, LSU Sea Grant and serving as director of the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District, Zeringue also served for years as executive director of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.
Although he hasn’t been in the limelight nearly as much as Zeringue or Graves, Kline has been involved in Louisiana coastal issues since 2008, just after Bobby Jindal was elected governor.
A native of Clinton and graduate of LSU, Kline worked as a staffer for Kay Bailey Hutchinson, former U.S. senator from Texas, for four years before moving back to Louisiana to serve on Jindal’s transition team.
“I started day one of the administration in coastal activities,” Kline said.
In 2010, Kline was named deputy director in the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, first under Graves and then for Zeringue.
In fact, Zeringue and Kline said they both started in the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities at about the same time early in the administration.
“I think it’s going to be a smooth transition,” Zeringue said.
The last day for Zeringue, who is also known as “Zee,” will be Friday.
As a resident of Houma, Zeringue spent years traveling from his home to work in Baton Rouge and across the state.
“I’ve been doing this for seven years. I’d like to get reintroduced to my family,” Zeringue said during a joint interview with Kline. In addition, he said, he’s been thinking of running for political office for several years.
Kline said he’s had the benefit of working with Graves, who helped write the law that formed the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, and then with Zeringue, who’s had years of experience working with levee construction.
“Zee has been incredible in building consensus among the stakeholder groups,” Kline said.
As larger and larger projects get built through the coastal program, Zeringue said he wants to make sure that people with interests in the coast stay involved in the planning process.
“The whole aspect of consensus is critical in moving forward,” Zeringue said.
Challenges the coastal program will face in the next few years will include increased scrutiny of the annual plan, which outlines the spending for coastal work in the coming year. With more money expected to come to coastal restoration through such avenues as fines from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, it will be important to make sure that money doesn’t get diverted to other uses, they said.
Another issue coming up in 2015 will be the state’s decisions on what will be done with potential diversions of sediment and water from the Mississippi River.
Computer modeling is expected to provide results later this summer that will help the state decide which diversions should be built and where they should be located. There is also a question of whether some diversions included in the master plan should be built at all.
Those decisions will be made with the knowledge that there are people who have concerns about the impact these diversions could have on the environment, including fisheries or nutrient input into the marshes.
“We’re listening to the concerns and looking into them, but at the same time I think the science is on our side in diversions,” Kline said, meaning that diversions need to be a part of the state’s plan.
In total, Kline and Zeringue said, not much will change in how the state’s coastal program moves forward after the changing of the guard.
Kline said he understands there is concern that there have been three Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Board chairmen in two years, which some people might consider as a sign of instability.
“But that’s not the case,” Kline said. “(It’s) business as usual. Just a different body in the seat. It’s really going to be seamless.”
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.