If there are issues dividing the candidates running for governor, coastal restoration is not among them. In fact, there’s a striking level of agreement about the principles of a state plan to use Mississippi River water and sediments to rebuild the sinking coastline.
This is an area in which the group — all of whom are seeking to put distance between themselves and unpopular Gov. Bobby Jindal — is likely to continue the current administration’s efforts on coastal restoration.
As Jindal coastal affairs aide Chip Kline recently said, there has been general agreement since the 1920s that land loss in the river’s delta could be combated by mimicking the river’s natural development of the alluvial plain. That period of Louisiana history saw the building of river levees for flood control, but that walling off of the river and subsequent intensive oil and gas development had major impacts on the region.
Over many years, then, there has been an agreed approach to the problem: to divert Mississippi River water into disappearing estuaries.
Three Republicans and a lone Democrat talked about coastal issues at a forum at Nicholls State University, and the discussion was shadowed by the loss of about 1,900 square miles of coastline since the 1930s.
That the candidates largely voiced similar approaches on what they see as the steps necessary to take is important given the considerable opposition to diversion projects; fishermen, oystermen and others fear the diversion of river water will harm their industries. There’s also controversy about where to implement diversions and even whether enough sediment is in the river to accomplish much restoration.
All that said, the state under Jindal has worked to develop a $50 billion, 50-year master plan.
The Republican candidates are U.S. Sen. David Vitter, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle. The Democrat is state Rep. John Bel Edwards. The primary election is Oct. 24.
They are shrewd politicians and officeholders, so they are hardly unaware of the controversies ahead with implementation of the master plan.
“The possible negative impacts are very real,” Vitter said.
But he and others noted that the diversions are vital components of coastal restoration. “If we don’t do something, I believe we risk the overall collapse” of the delta, Angelle said.
They are correct, but they are also going to have to be effective salesmen for the coastal plan to the people of the United States. The costs, even with payments to the state from a legal settlement by BP over its 2010 oil spill, are going to be too large for the state to handle alone.
It is a national problem, and a large one. But such a big issue requires a long-term commitment, and we think Jindal’s master plan is the framework for an effective response.