The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) last week took a giant step toward implementing and safeguarding the state's Coastal Master Plan. The authority approved a proposal to use Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) money, rather than BP settlement funds, for elevating Louisiana Highway 1 at Port Fourchon. In another key vote, CPRA voted to advance sediment diversion projects in the Mid-Barataria and Mid-Breton areas, which will reintroduce fresh water and sediment from the Mississippi River into neighboring wetlands and rebuild land over time.
CPRA's decision to back off using BP money for the LA1 project is huge. Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration first suggested using part of the settlement funds for elevating LA1 in September, and the idea immediately drew widespread criticism — for good reason. From the earliest stages of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, state and federal leaders anticipated dedicating all settlement funds to coastal restoration under the Master Plan. That plan is conservatively estimated to cost $50 billion over the next two to three decades, possibly as much as $100 billion. Louisiana will have to put up a significant portion of that total to match potential federal grants, which means every dollar the state siphons away from the Master Plan actually costs us even more dollars in restoration funds.
"To rob coastal restoration funds for a road project is exactly the wrong route," noted the America's Wetland Foundation, a coalition of industry and environmental groups supporting the Master Plan. "What will the U.S. government say as future governors plead for assistance on coastal restoration?"
Candidates should commit to dedicating all of the BP settlement funds to the Master Plan. It holds the key to saving coastal Louisiana.
Excellent point. It is also true that elevating LA1 at Port Fourchon is an important economic development project that should be funded — the right way. Louisiana has a Transportation Trust Fund for precisely such projects. Unfortunately, the Jindal administration has raided the fund for various uses not directly related to highways and bridges. No doubt that's why Jindal proposed yet another boneheaded move — raiding the BP settlement money and the Master Plan to pay for elevating LA1. That CPRA mustered the courage to stand up to the governor at this critical juncture not only is a sign of the board's commitment to the Master Plan but signals that Jindal has entered the lame duck period of his failed tenure.
Using GOMESA funds is an appropriate alternative to Jindal's proposal. GOMESA is a federal law passed at the behest of former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu after Hurricane Katrina. It gives Louisiana its first real share of federal offshore mineral revenues starting in 2017. Up to 10 percent of GOMESA funds can be used for coastal infrastructure projects, with a focus on projects directly impacted by coastal wetland loss. Elevating LA1 at Port Fourchon certainly fits that criteria.
As the race to succeed Jindal enters the runoff phase, both remaining candidates should commit to dedicating all of the BP settlement funds to the Master Plan. CPRA's vote last week to advance two key sediment diversion projects shows that the plan is more than just a concept — it holds the key to saving coastal Louisiana. Louisiana needs to fund it as fully and as quickly as possible.