As lobbying efforts ramp up in advance of a Wednesday showdown on coastal funding, a disagreement over a proposal by Gov. Bobby Jindal to use extra money from parts of the Deepwater Horizon civil fines on La. 1 elevation work has divided groups that have worked together for years on coastal restoration and protection.
That division likely will continue Wednesday when the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority board is expected to vote on the issue.
Although some opponents have suggested that the proposal was politically motivated, Ted Falgout, chairman of the La. 1 Coalition, said it was just a matter of the coalition asserting the right to a portion of the money.
Coalition officials met with the governor and he agreed that the state highway work should be included, Falgout said. The group has advocated for years to elevate the road between Golden Meadow and Port Fourchon.
“We always felt we were going to be a part of the RESTORE Act,” Falgout said. “We didn’t ask for the whole pie.”
Falgout blames environmental coastal groups for how divisive the issue has become because they could have helped make the case for how different La. 1 is from other roads around the state.
“Unfortunately, this is blown out of proportion. A lot of hard feelings on both sides,” Falgout said.
At the same time, opposition to the governor’s proposal is growing.
So far, all four candidates for governor have voiced opposition to the proposal, and coastal groups have said it’s a bad precedent. Over the weekend, more groups signed on as opposed, including the Plaquemines Association of Business and Industry, St. Mary Chamber of Commerce, The Chamber Southwest Louisiana and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, according to the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition.
The coalition is made up of coastal groups including Environmental Defense Fund, Audubon, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.
On Tuesday, the Bureau of Governmental Research, a nonprofit research organization based in New Orleans, added its voice to the opposition.
“In the context of a $50 billion master plan that is far from funded, the supposed surplus in coastal restoration funding is a mirage,” the organization said in a release. “It conveys a lack of dedication by Louisiana to restoring its coast. This could jeopardize future federal funding that will be critical to executing the master plan.”
The issue started at the September state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority meeting when the proposal was made that would dedicate any money left over from two sections of the RESTORE Act projects to the La. 1 elevation work.
Coastal groups cried foul, saying the state has maintained for years that the money derived from civil penalties as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster would go toward projects in the state’s master plan for coastal restoration and protection even though infrastructure projects are an allowable use of the money. Coastal advocates agree that the elevation of La. 1 is critical but say funding needs to come from other sources.
Proponents of the proposal say La. 1 is critical to maintain the sustainability of the coast because it is the lifeline to Port Fourchon, a major supplier for offshore oil and gas production.
Ted Falgout said the project should have been included in the master plan in the first place.
“Louisiana has said, ‘We’re going to spend the money on master plan projects,’ ” he said. “And we have always felt we were part of the master plan.”
Although not one of the hundreds of projects listed in the plan, he said, that was just a technicality because the state didn’t have a way to evaluate roadwork along side levee and coastal restoration projects.
The proposal says no funds would be available for the roadwork until after the complete suite of projects is completed — a minimum of 15 years. Falgout said that doesn’t necessarily mean the road would have to wait that long to realize money.
“Over time, rules change. We adaptively manage things. Who knows?” he said.
The proposal is set for a vote at the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority meeting at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in the State Capitol House Committee Room 5, 900 N. Third St., Baton Rouge.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.