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Coastal plan spans decades

11:18 PM, Jan. 18, 2012  |  

BATON ROUGE � A proposed master plan for protecting and restoring Louisiana's coast won't make everybody happy, says Garret Graves, chairman of state panel charged with the task, but it's a plan that can protect the state from further ruin from storms.

However, said Graves, the chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, it's going to take 50 years to complete all the projects in it.

Members of the CPRA got a detailed look at the study, which is an update of one done five years ago with new data gathered by scientists and information on projects done in the past five years.

"This is the most extensive thing we've done," Graves said after a review of the plan presented by Kirk Rhineheart, head of the CPRA planning division.

"This is a draft plan, and I'm not going to sit here and say it's perfect."

The study is based on the best science available.

Rhineheart said now the next step is to take the draft to the communities that are affected and get another round of input. Then a final report will be presented to CPRA for approval and then to the Legislature for consideration in the session that begins March 12.

The plan outlines $50 billion worth of projects to be completed over 50 years.

The state and federal governments share the cost of the 145 projects all along the Louisiana coast that are deigned to "provide some level of protection for every coastal community," the plan states.

The plan calls for restoring wetlands, shorelines, headlands and barrier islands that once provided protection from storms but have eroded.

A U.S. Geologic Survey examination of ongoing restoration projects found that they are working to restore lost coastline.

But it's not enough to eliminate the loss of land equivalent to a football field every 20 minutes, Rhineheart said.

Not long ago, the loss was estimated at a football field every 16 minutes or less.

"Since the 1930s, we've lost 1,900 square miles of land," Graves said The USGS also drew up new maps showing that at the current rates of erosion and subsidence, much of what is coastal Louisiana would be open water by 2060.

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Graves said some people are not going to like the plan. Representatives of Plaquemines Parish said he was right, especially the part of the report that calls for rebuilding coastal marsh by diverting more Mississippi River water.

Oyster beds were destroyed when the state sent more river water into Plaquemines and St. Bernard parish marshes to try to keep oil from the BP well disaster from washing ashore.

But diversion is one of the least expensive and most effective ways to build up coastal marshland, Graves said.

CPRA member King Milling, head of the America's Wetlands Foundation, endorsed the plan.

"Given the nature of what's on the table, I've got to go with the best science," Milling said. Failing to take action would lead to catastrophic loss.

"Loss of this area south of I-10 would have a profound effect on the rest of the country," he said.

The endangered region highlighted on the USGS maps is where most of the chemical plants and petroleum refineries are located, as well as a fisheries industry that provides much of the nation's seafood.

Rhineheart said the plan is "scaleable" so projects can be as large or small as the money available.

The plan calls for $10.7 billion of the potential $50 billion funding to be spent on projects to protect southwest Louisiana, including Calcasieu, Cameron and Acadia parishes. Included would be a complex and controversial levee to protect Lake Charles, something resident there opposed.

Another $7.5 billion would be used for projects in the central region, Vermilion through St. Mary parishes. Structures are planned to protect Abbeville, Franklin and Morgan City The Lafourche-Terrebonne region would receive $8.9 billion, split among coastal restoration and levee projects. Projects in a region from Terrebonne to central Plaquemines involving rerouting Mississippi River water would receive $10.2 billion.

The remaining $14.2 billion would be used in a large region ranging from the Lake Pontchartain area, down through Orleans and St. Bernard and taking in the remainder of Plaquemines.

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