031217 Mid-Barataria sediment

The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, a huge land-building project that is a top priority of the state's coastal authority, is not expected to be permitted until October 2022, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official told the authority's board Wednesday.

State officials had hoped the project would be permitted two years earlier than that, and the news brought swift criticism.

"2022 clearly to us is not acceptable," said Johnny Bradberry, chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority's board. "We are going to push every damn day to get this through."

Col. Michael Clancy, of the Corps, told the board that because the plan has to wend its way through a myriad of federal regulating agencies, a final decision likely will take more than five years. 

By then, the CPRA — now in the final stages of preparing its 2017 Master Plan, which will be voted on by the Legislature this summer — will have run through an entire cycle with a new master plan.

The project, which involves cutting a hole in the Mississippi River levee and building a gated structure to control the amount of water and sediment that flows into the Barataria Basin, is a cornerstone of the CPRA's strategy to, where possible, allow the river and the sediment it carries help to rebuild the coastal land that has been lost.

Since 1932, nearly 2,000 square miles of land have vanished, and according to projections in the master plan, another 2,000-plus could be lost in the next 50 years.

Earlier this year, the mid-Barataria project was placed on the federal permitting dashboard, a process that officials hoped would improve its chances of a relatively speedy approval. 

The diversion and a similar project planned for Breton Sound were among five projects Gov. John Bel Edwards submitted to the Trump administration in a bid to have them prioritized as key infrastructure projects.

Clancy's statement also drew quick reaction from a coalition of local and national conservation organizations, the Restore The Mississippi Delta Coalition.

"“Every day that we wait is another day we put our coastal communities at risk. We need to do everything in our power to get the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion under construction as soon as possible," said Steve Cochran, the campaign director for the coalition.

After the meeting, Bradberry said he doesn't view Clancy's projection as final and that he plans to continue to press the federal government to speed the process.

Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.