GONZALES — Parts of Ascension Parish have gained coastal zone status, opening up access to federal funding but also placing regulatory scrutiny on projects that affect coastal waters, officials said this week.
Only the parish’s eastern and southeastern reaches, mostly sparsely populated areas of swamp, were added.
The addition stems from a scientific study of the zone’s inland boundary conducted last year by the Office of Coastal Management, Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, officials said.
DNR officials informed the East Ascension Consolidated Gravity Drainage District No. 1 Board of Commissioners Monday that part of the parish went into the zone in May.
The study recommends changes that will add a net 2,000 square miles to the zone in Louisiana.
Within the 2,000-square-mile area, state or local permitting would be required for activities such as construction, DNR officials told the board Monday.
Most of the changes to the zone require legislative approval next year, said Ed Britton, DNR coastal restoration scientist. But, he said, Ascension was added when the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority accepted the study on May 17.
Parish officials and legislators said they have been pushing to add the parish to the zone for a share of federal funding.
State Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, said Tuesday legislators had to fight opposition from 19 other parishes already in the zone. A bill sponsored by Rep. Eddie Lambert, R-Prairieville, to add Ascension failed in 2009, but the Legislature called for the DNR study.
Amedee said he had hoped a larger share of the parish would be included in the zone.
“The reality of it is we got what we deserved,” he said.
The new area includes the Marvin J. Braud Pumping Station, the existing Laurel Ridge levee and a proposed levee extension.
Louis Buatt, assistant secretary of the Office of Coastal Management, said Tuesday Ascension is not immediately eligible for funding from two key federal sources tied to the zone but noted projects in the coastal zone have priority.
On Monday, Terry Howey, DNR Coastal Resources Management Division administrator, told the board permits will be required for activities in the zone, or what is called the coastal use permit area, that could affect coastal waters.
Parish President Tommy Martinez said the parish will add a coastal zone program to its existing permit office.