The ravages of Hurricane Rita coming so quickly after the horrors of Katrina proved to be an eye-opening moment for the nation and for people in positions of authority. Finally, the world saw the consequences of the coastal degradation we have been talking about for more than eight decades, and finally there was a resolve at the national level to help save Louisiana’s coast.
Every hurricane we experience knocks down our protective ecosystem buffer and makes the next storm potentially more devastating, no matter what category it might be. So, in addition to building levees and flood walls, restoring our natural ecosystem buffer is of prime importance. In addition, the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority has been heavily involved in projects that spent billions of dollars on land and marsh creation, shoreline protection and barrier island restoration. The question we must ask ourselves is this: 10 years after Katrina and Rita, and after years and billions of dollars in protection and restoration projects along our coast, are we actually less vulnerable? Are our protection and restoration efforts making a difference?
The answer is yes, we are better protected than just a few years ago, but there is still a long way to go. The best news may be that we are fighting back with a scientifically effective plan, and for the first time, we have funding to make it happen. However, getting and keeping additional funding is an ongoing challenge.
The state CPRA’s $50 billion Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast includes man-made protective structures like levees, flood walls, flood gates and pumps, and a proposal for elevating homes and businesses, but also a means of restoring our greatest historical defenses: our barrier islands, shorelines, beaches and the marsh ecosystem in our tidal basins that once buffered us so well against storm surge.
In the past seven years, CPRA has built or improved more than 256 miles of levees, constructed 45 miles of barrier islands and berms, restored about 30,000 acres of coastal habitat through the dredging of more than 95 million cubic yards of sediment and moved approximately 150 projects into design and construction. All of this we have accomplished and paid for.
In addition, we have secured essential revenue streams to fund future large-scale projects. But now more than ever, we need the president and the nation to prioritize Louisiana’s disappearing coast, including the continued cooperation of the participating federal agencies and Congress.
During President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Louisiana, we had the opportunity to update him and his team on the protection and restoration work underway, putting emphasis on important local needs. The feedback was very positive. They spoke with high regard about our master plan and encouraged us to protect and maximize funding streams to support that plan. We stressed the critical need for fulfilling the promise of Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act revenue sharing as a funding stream for our restoration and protection. The federal officials recognized the importance of safeguarding those dollars, funds our voters have already constitutionally dedicated to hurricane protection and coastal restoration.
Louisiana’s share of these revenues — about $140 million per year beginning in 2017 — is integral to funding our coastal master plan. The CPRA will continue to work with members of our congressional delegation and the White House to ensure that federal offshore energy revenue intended for Louisiana remains dedicated to our cause.
Fortunately, the nation hears Louisiana speaking with one voice. In the scores of national media interviews given during Katrina’s 10th anniversary events, our officials continually delivered our message: coastal protection and coastal restoration go hand in hand; barrier islands and wetlands are vital first lines of defense that must be maintained and restored; the Mississippi River is a natural restoration tool that must be fully utilized; and Louisiana has an exemplary, science-based coastal master plan to do just that.
So, while we remain deeply saddened by memories of the tragedies of 10 years ago, we do have reasons to be optimistic. The coastal program has strong momentum, our efforts are advancing quickly and in the right direction, and by continuing to stand united, all things are possible in our mission to create a legacy of lasting resilience.
Chip Kline is executive assistant to the governor for coastal activities and chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Board.