In a Baton Rouge board room Wednesday morning, state officials were considering a 50-year plan to help fight land loss along Louisiana's coast. In another room a few blocks away, Gov. John Bel Edwards was declaring the situation an emergency.
The juxtaposition of urgency and long-term planning is necessary when it comes to the coast, state officials have said. Projects to help stave off land loss will take years to design and build, but an emergency declaration could cut years off the permitting process for those projects.
The governor's emergency declaration, once it becomes official, will be sent to Trump administration officials as well as members of Congress in the hopes that the federal permitting process for major coastal infrastructure projects can be accelerated.
The declaration is not specific about how this should be done; it just asks both branches of government to find ways to speed up the process.
One selling point for the declaration is that, unlike other disaster declarations, it isn't asking for federal funds. The state has the money to start work on some of the projects, such as the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, which state officials have already asked the federal government to fast-track, to no avail.
Last month, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official said the expected timeline for the Barataria project to get a permit is 2022, an estimate that was called "unacceptable" by Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Chairman Johnny Bradberry.
The emergency declaration, if successful, would allow work on the project to proceed while the permitting process is ongoing, Bradberry said, making it similar to the situation that existed after Hurricane Katrina.
"If we are able to break ground in 2020, instead of 2022, that saves us two years," Bradberry said.
A key element of the declaration is that the state is not asking for federal dollars, just the ability to move forward with the project.
The announcement that the declaration had been signed came moments after the CPRA board unanimously approved the state's 2017 coastal master plan, a 50-year blueprint for staving off the effects of coastal land loss. The first master plan was created in 2007; by law, it must be revised every five years.
The 2017 version of the plan will now go to the Legislature for an up or down vote. Lawmakers approved the 2007 and 2012 master plans unanimously.
The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, a massive project that would involve cutting the Mississippi River levee near Myrtle Grove and funneling water and sediment into the Barataria Basin, is a key project in the 2017 master plan. It's part of a strategy of letting the river contribute to building land, which it did naturally in the Barataria basin until the river levees were built decades ago.
The project has the support of most officials and many environmentalists, but there are detractors as well. Some commercial fishermen worry that the influx of freshwater into the basin will harm fisheries and destroy their livelihoods.
Wednesday's vote on the master plan caps years of preparation and months of public meetings and feedback after a draft copy of the plan was released in January. A 90-day official public comment period closed late last month after garnering some 1,300 comments, a CPRA spokesman said.
Those comments did result in some adjustments to the plan, according to Bren Haase, the CPRA official in charge of the plan. For instance, two shoreline protection projects in Vermilion and Iberia parishes were added to the plan, and the timeline for a flood risk reduction project in Calcasieu Parish was moved up.
Public comments at Wednesday's meeting of the authority were almost uniformly positive.
The 2017 version of the plan includes 124 projects that are projected to save the state about $150 billion in flood-related costs over the next 50 years.
In another vote, the board approved the 2018 annual plan, which is the mechanism by which master plan projects are funded. The request for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, is for $644 million. Much of that funding is dedicated money.