The most important issue facing the state of Louisiana, and Plaquemines Parish in particular, is coastal land loss. The statement, “We lose a football field of land every 100 minutes,” runs way too smoothly off our tongues. In fact, this statement should scare people, but it has lost its effect. Unfortunately, it also seems that local leadership does not want to be pro-active in addressing this problem. The eroding coastline will have devastating effects on our economy and our quality of life.
This has to change. The state, in particular the Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority, is leading the way with implementing large-scale ecosystem restoration projects. The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion is one of these projects and the largest coastal restoration project in the history of the country. This project is designed to reconnect the river to the Barataria basin, carrying sediment and nutrients from the river to nourish the marsh and sustain and build land. Also within Plaquemines Parish, the Mid-Breton Sediment Diversion is a planned CPRA project of similar importance in significantly improving flood protection on the east side of the parish — the most vulnerable side to hurricane storm surge.
Currently, the Mid-Barataria project is undergoing a robust federal permitting process that could wrap up in the next two years. Additionally, construction could begin as early as 2021. The Mid-Breton project is close behind in terms of design, permitting and planned construction.
The Mississippi River at New Orleans carries approximately 150 to 200 million tons per year of sediment that is mostly lost to downstream areas and the Gulf of Mexico. This sediment supply has built the delta that is southeast Louisiana over the last 6,000 years. The land-building potential associated with the river sediment has been mostly shut down over the last 150 years by the river levee system. The Mid-Barataria and Mid-Breton sediment diversions together will capture approximately 10 to 15 percent of the sediment in the river and therefore are an important start in re-harnessing the river for land-building where it is most needed.
Diversions are not an experiment. Besides the fact that the delta has been built by river sediment over thousands of years, recent man-made diversions have been well proven to build land through the examples of Big Mar, Fort St. Phillip, Cubits Gap and West Bay, the latter three in Plaquemines Parish. Sediment diversions have the added benefit of creating land that is much more sustainable (with life spans in the range of 50 to 100 years) compared to marsh building projects through dredging that have an approximate 20-year life span due to subsidence and sea level rise.
If master plan projects like these are not completed in Plaquemines Parish, we are looking at a net land loss of 55 percent over the next 50 years. With sediment diversion projects and restoration projects, the parish will see a 21 percent reduction in land loss by year 50.
The two diversion projects planned for Plaquemines Parish have a combined cost of more than $2.2 billion. With these projects, Plaquemines Parish will experience economic growth and ensure our children and grandchildren can call this parish home for many years to come.
If we choose not to address our problems, we will be dealing with an increase in flood insurance rates as well as a lack of interest from businesses looking to expand into the parish. With high insurance rates and no business, this parish will be headed down a very dark road. The state has stepped up to the plate for the parish. Now it is time that our local elected officials do the same and help move this parish forward so future generations can call Plaquemines home.