Louisiana’s coastal authority began rolling out its new 50-year master plan Tuesday, drawing plaudits for the plan's readability and science but catching flak for endorsing projects that some worry will harm fishermen or coastal communities.
By law, a new coastal master plan must be produced every five years. The first was produced in 2007; this year's edition is the third.
At its core, the coastal master plan is a list of projects geared toward two goals: helping to slow the pace of coastal land loss and helping to protect vulnerable communities from surges associated with storms. Some projects are planned for the near term; others are envisioned decades into the future.
The plan is produced by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and must be voted on by the Legislature, which can only accept or reject it; the lawmakers cannot amend it. Both the 2007 and 2012 plans were approved unanimously.
Like its predecessors, the 2017 plan is referred to as a 50-year, $50 billion plan, but an ever-changing coast and the plan's constant revisions make those fluid targets.
That fluidity doesn't stop officials from touting the success of the two previous plans: Since 2007, according to the CPRA, 135 master plan projects have been completed, benefiting 31,000 acres of land, 275 miles of levees and more than 50 miles of barrier islands and berms.
A separate document, the fiscal year annual plan, will be submitted to the Legislature as a funding request. That plan envisions $663 million in projects for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
The new master plan's roll-out, which began with public meetings in Lake Charles and New Orleans and a presentation to the CPRA board in Baton Rouge, will continue this week with public open houses in Houma and Mandeville, two communities that will likely be hit hard by expected changes to Louisiana’s coast.
By many evaluations, the 2017 plan is more realistic than the 2012 version, which was criticized for its assertion that Louisiana could see a net gain in land over 50 years if the plan were followed.
The new plan drops that claim. In fact, it asserts that Louisiana will lose anywhere from 1,200 to 4,100 square miles of coastal land over the next 50 years, depending on how much sea levels rise.
A draft plan for how the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority proposes to spen…
A variety of scenarios for sea-level rise are contemplated in the 2017 plan, which incorporates more recent scientific estimates than its predecessor. What rated as 2012's worst-case scenario, a rise of about 1.48 feet, is now the best-case scenario.
The plan got a mostly warm reception from the nearly 200 people who attended an open house in an auditorium at the Port of New Orleans building Wednesday night.
John Lopez, of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, applauded the document but said the projects it identifies need to be built more quickly than the master plan's timeline dictates.
"Next year is the 300-year anniversary of New Orleans. Right now, it's not clear that there will be a 400-year anniversary," Lopez said. "We have to get behind this plan and build projects even faster than the state has been doing."
Greg Gasperez, an environmental engineer, thanked the CPRA for the plan and said partisanship should be put aside to get the plan into action.
Some, however, expressed reservations about parts of the plan.
Capt. George Ricks, a fisherman who also works with the Save Louisiana Coalition, said the CPRA should re-examine diversion projects. Those projects — where water and silt are diverted from the Mississippi River into marshes to help create additional land — are controversial among some fishermen, who worry that the introduction of freshwater and sediment will reduce the productivity of nearby fisheries.
"Diversion could be an important tool, but I don't think it's a silver bullet," Ricks said.
Nedra Davis, who sits on the CRPA's board, thanked officials for holding an open house in Lake Charles but asked that they consider more shoreline protection in southwest Louisiana.
At present, the plan envisions only two shoreline protection projects for the southwestern part of the state, both of them along Freshwater Bayou, south of Lafayette. Both would be rock walls placed in the water to preserve the shoreline and prevent damage from wave erosion.
Others urged the CPRA to solicit community involvement earlier in the process and to prioritize the protection of low-income communities when considering projects that will include floodproofing or elevating homes.
Anthony Caronia says that if he had known what the future held for Louisiana’s coast, he wou…
After the public meetings in Houma on Tuesday and Mandeville on Wednesday, public comments will still be collected on the CPRA website through March 26.
Once a final version of the plan is agreed upon by the CPRA board, it will go to the Legislature for an up-or-down vote.