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Gov. John Bel Edwards on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019

Gov. John Bel Edwards announced plans Wednesday for spending about $350 million in coastal dollars, including money to accelerate a nearly half-century-old project to protect LaPlace and nearby areas.

Most of the money – nearly $300 million – is from a federal revenue source of offshore oil and gas money called the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, or GOMESA.

The other $55 million, including dollars for the long-delayed $760 million West Shore Lake Pontchartrain hurricane protection project, is state surplus money that requires legislative approval. Local and federal officials announced in August that they hope to finish that levee system by 2023, with federal funds accounting for 65 percent of the pricetag.

Edwards said that, in the next 12 months, $120 million in federal dollars will be spent to protect lives in south Louisiana. "This is a threat to two million people who live and work along the coast," he said.

The governor said he wants to use $30 million of the $55 million in surplus dollars for the West Shore project.

Chip Kline, named by the governor on Wednesday as executive assistant for coastal activities, said the work was authorized for study in 1971 "and the hard working people of this region have been waiting to see progress ever since."

"When the federal government recently made the full cost to construct the project available to the (U. S. Army) Corps, we were determined to meet the state's obligations on the lands side as quickly as possible in order to keep this project on schedule, so we can better protect the people of this region," Kline said.

The work envisioned includes a levee system on the east bank of the Mississippi River from the Bonnet Carré Spillway in St. Charles Parish to the Hope Canal in St. John the Baptist Parish.

Edwards proposed using the rest of the surplus dollars to restore $15 million previously used by former Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration and $10 million for ongoing coastal restoration projects.

The federal dollars will be used over three years.

Other projects include $35 million for a critical pump station in Bayou Lafourche that provides freshwater to marshes in the parish; $75 million to finish the design and construct the Bayou Chene flood control system mostly in St. Martin Parish; and $22 million to build or improve levees and parts of the Morganza Spillway to the Gulf Hurricane Protection System in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes.

Also, $9 million to design the Slidell ring levee; $10 million for levee repair work in Grand Isle; and $7.5 million for drainage canal relocation as part of the New Orleans to Venice hurricane protection system in Plaquemines Parish.

In a statement, Kimberly Reyher, executive director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, praised the governor's proposal to replenish the Coastal Trust Fund with part of the state surplus.

Reyher added, "It is important that Louisiana receive its share of the promised GOMESA funding. This money is long overdue, but we are finally receiving some benefits for helping power our nation."

She said, "This money is crucial to help our coastal communities mitigate the risk that we face from rising seas and destructive storms that will continue to batter our coast."

The America's WETLAND Foundation also praised efforts to return dollars to the Coastal Trust Fund.

"The dollars will now go where they were meant to go – to critically needed coastal restoration projects," according to a statement released by the Baton Rouge-based group.

A handful of state lawmakers attended the announcement, including Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego.

Said Edwards, "I made a commitment that under my watch coastal dollars would be used for coastal projects."

"Given the opportunity to return funding that never should have been taken is one wrong I am happy to right," Edwards said.

Kline, who has held the job on an interim basis, will also be chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and succeeds Johnny Bradberry.

"It is a responsibility I do not take lightly," he said.

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