The next 10 years will determine the shape of Louisiana’s coast as an influx of money from the upcoming BP Deepwater Horizon settlement and additional offshore oil and gas revenue enable the state to pursue larger coastal restoration and protection projects.
The expected $640 million a year over the next 15 years in guaranteed funding is a far cry from the $30 million a year of recurring funding the state’s coastal office could depend on during the past seven years, Chip Kline, executive assistant to the governor for coastal activities, told the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday.
It’s a continuation of growth the program has seen during the past seven years, in no small part because of the fines and settlements from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
In 2008, the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority had an operating budget of $200 million with $60 million to $70 million allotted for coastal protection and restoration.
In fiscal year 2016, the authority has an $880 million budget with $600 million for coastal projects, he said.
The program stands to receive $500 a million a year for the next 15 years through the proposed settlement with BP to be finalized in the coming months, and an additional $140 million a year through the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which was passed in 2006 and goes into effect in 2017. GOMESA funding is still uncertain because there has been talk from President Barack Obama of diverting that money from the Gulf states to national conservation efforts.
Sustained, guaranteed funding is essential for larger coastal projects, such as diversions of water and sediment from the Mississippi River.
“This will likely jump-start our restoration efforts in a way that’s never been done before,” Kline said.
Still, it’s imperative the next governor and the state legislature understand that coastal work needs to continue.
“Coastal protection and restoration must be a centerpiece of any platform for a candidate running for governor or for the legislature,” Kline said. “We need to make sure whoever is in there, the administration does not miss a beat.”
The state is working on projects outlined in a 50-year, $50 billion state master plan for coastal restoration and protection.
“A long-term, sustainable funding stream must be a priority for the next administration,” Kline said. “We can’t keep waiting on the next hurricane or natural disaster to fund the coastal program.”
It is also important to guard against siphoning money available for coastal work to other uses.
“You have legislators who very much have their eyes on these dollars,” he said.
Restoring and protecting the coast is vital to help protect the natural resources, industries and communities that coastal Louisiana supports.
“If you think we have budget problems now, try losing the people, industry and tax base that comes from coastal Louisiana, and then try to balance a budget,” Kline said.
With larger projects also come the potential for larger conflicts, such as the concern some fishermen have about the potential of large diversions of fresh water from the Mississippi River to negatively affect fish populations.
“We have to balance the needs of the different interest groups,” Kline said. An example is the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, widely blamed for the loss of 55,000 acres of wetlands and for the devastating flood of St. Bernard Parish during Hurricane Katrina. MRGO was blocked off in 2009, but now some people want a hole cut in the closure because they think it’s affecting crab populations in lakes Pontchartrain and Borgne.
“The crisis we face in coastal Louisiana is bigger than any one industry or any one interest group,” Kline said. “We will have to adjust.”
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.