While suggesting tweaks and a faster pace for coastal restoration efforts in the state, U.S. Sen. David Vitter suggested he would largely support existing policies on coastal issues after he held a private meeting with flood protection and coastal officials as part of his gubernatorial campaign Friday.
Vitter’s ideas were largely noncontroversial: The state should ensure that mitigation projects built to make up for wetlands damaged by development are directed toward the goals of its master plan; state and local entities should kick in money to aid the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ efforts to increase the amount of dredged material that is reused for restoration projects; and revenue sharing from offshore drilling should be maintained — and potentially expanded — and used for coastal efforts.
Overall, he made clear, he supports coastal restoration.
“It’s a matter of survival. You can’t have something that’s more important than that,” said Vitter, a Republican. “It’s literally a matter of survival for all sorts of communities, including where I live in Metairie, and really for the state economically.”
Friday’s session was the first of seven “leadership forums” Vitter is hosting this year on a range of topics including agriculture, energy issues and violent crime.
As with similar forums he held last year, Friday’s event was closed to the press and public. It included only Vitter and about two dozen representatives of organizations involved in coastal efforts or flood control, including the Corps, various levee districts and authorities, and business groups such as GNO Inc.
The events have been billed as a way for Vitter to hear from those directly involved in the key issues facing the state as he works to develop a concrete platform for his campaign. But they also provide a way for the campaign to burnish its policy credentials.
Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, Republican Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle and state House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Bel Edwards also are running for governor. The primary will be on Oct. 24; a runoff, if necessary, will be on Nov. 21.
While he largely shied away from criticism of current state policies, Vitter said the state’s Coastal Master Plan, the $50 billion, 50-year proposal that guides Louisiana’s restoration efforts, needs to be implemented more quickly than it has been so far.
While some of the slow pace has been due to necessary planning, Vitter said, the state could move more quickly in actually starting the projects it contains.
“I think the master plan is sound. It’s going to have to be tweaked along the way,” he said. “The key is implementation and moving to a different stage where we’re not just studying. I think everyone’s tired of studying things to death. If we study this for too long, it’s going to be too late.”
As for how those restoration efforts can be realized, Vitter said he favors reusing material the Corps digs out of the Mississippi River as part of its effort to keep it navigable. Some of that material is being pumped out to build land, but much is merely dumped in the Gulf of Mexico. The state and local governments could help fund those efforts to make them more widespread, Vitter said.
In addition, he said, the state should work to ensure that if wetlands mitigation efforts are required for a commercial development or construction project, that those efforts are done in accordance with the master plan.
Unsurprisingly, Vitter was critical of President Barack Obama’s recent budget proposal, which calls for ending a revenue-sharing plan that would see Louisiana and other Gulf states get a cut of the money generated by drilling in federal waters starting in 2018. In Louisiana, that money would be dedicated to coastal restoration efforts.
It does not appear likely that Congress will go along with the president’s proposal, and Vitter said he is working with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, on a plan that would expand revenue sharing.
“I’m hopeful we can move in the right direction, not the wrong direction,” he said.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.