031217 Mid-Barataria sediment

Even if it were it sitting in a green field on high ground, the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion would be a giant project. Permits and approvals to build it would take years, typically. But since it's within — and intends to preserve and rebuild — Louisiana's deeply endangered coastal zone, an environmentally sensitive area by any definition, the challenges of gaining needed construction permits and approvals are even more staggering.

That's why we welcome an executive order by President Donald Trump committing the federal government to a permitting process that will work and not bog the project down in the marsh of red tape and regulations.

A two-year timeline for advancing the project will be enforced by a memorandum between the state and several federal agencies. The provisions of the agreement don't set aside federal laws and regulations, but it establishes an expedited process for untangling any disagreements in the course of permitting the project.

That's no small matter: The state proposes to pay $1.3 billion for the diversion project. The money will come from the legal settlement with BP after the disastrous 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Even with the money in hand, such a major project for the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority will involve a lot of consultation with federal authorities that have broad power over actions in wetlands or on the coast. But with the agreement, the agencies are being nudged to avoid delays.

Will they? We hope so, and we hope that the Louisiana delegation in Congress will also bird-dog compliance with the memorandum signed by the federal agencies and CPRA chief Johnny Bradberry.

Political tensions have been greater lately in Washington, with at least a couple of members of the state's delegation in Congress thinking aloud about running against Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2019. However, the delegation and the state officials of both parties have often come together on behalf of the coast.

We are confident a Democratic governor working with the new Republican administration on a major environmental project will once again generate common ground for all the officials involved.

The project will eventually return Mississippi River sediment to the coastal wetlands to rebuild land that has been lost and offset the subsidence of coastal wetlands that is occurring every day on Louisiana's shoreline.

Coastal erosion has been accelerating since at least the 1930s, when federal officials promoted a series of levees for flood control, limiting the Mississippi River's ability to carry replenishing sediment to the coast. Subsequent damage to wetlands by oil and gas exploration further sped the loss.

The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project is a big bet that the natural replenishment of the coastline by the river can be mimicked by man. The expedited timeline for its permits, and eventually its construction, is good news.