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Why not institute a “green” corps for the coast?

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green usace logoEditor’s note: This guest post by Mark LaFlaur* puts some meat on the bones of an idea suggested in LaCoastPost around Thanksgiving 2008, two months before the Obama family had moved into the White House.

Louisiana depression era art deco pelicans

Depression era art deco detail from the Bank of New Orleans, Magazine Street

Reinventing the CCC and WPA

by Mark LaFlaur

Consider a region on the northern gulf coast where serious unemployment coincides with massive environmental degradation  – and consider that a model exists for a jobs program that could help remedy both. Would that not justify serious consideration?

Levees Not War and LaCoastPost are collaborating to promote the concept of resurrecting one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s most popular Depression-era jobs programs – the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). A Louisiana-based CCC could be renamed Coastal Conservation Corps and a reconstituted CCC could provide a work force constructively engaged in saving south Louisiana, America’s Delta.

Protecting and restoring coastal Louisiana includes a wide range of tasks, both high and low tech. The latter category includes on the ground, labor-intensive jobs, such as planting baldcypress seedlings and plugs of marsh grass. It could fairly be said that there are currently plenty of chiefs but not enough Indians for this effort.

We propose establishing a robust jobs program to supply the labor for a coastal protection and restoration initiative that would provide both local and national** benefits.

Actually, a model already exists in Louisiana for a coastal conservation corps, in the form of America’s Wetland Conservation Corps (AWCC). This is a partnership between the America’s Wetland campaign and the LSU Ag Center, supported by a grant from AmeriCorps and administered by the Louisiana Serve Commission in the office of Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu.

With its 25 current members, AWCC develops wetland conservation projects, including vegetative plantings across the coast of Louisiana, from St. Bernard Parish to Holly Beach.

That’s a good beginning, but much more is needed, and it’s needed soon. First, a little history.5115NMCVQ3L

CCC

Franklin D. Roosevelt personally designed the Civilian Conservation Corps, drafting a version on a single page, and signing it into law on March 31, 1933, during his first month in office. In his popular biography of FDR, Jean Edward Smith describes the CCC this way:

The [initial 250,000] men, ages eighteen to twenty-five, would live in government-built camps, food and clothing would be provided, and the pay would be a dollar a day. Enlistment would be for six months, with possible renewals up to two years. The Labor Department would recruit the men, the Army would run the camps, and the Forestry Service would supervise the work. . .

The Civilian Conservation Corps did more than reclaim natural resources. It literally gave 3 million men a new lease on life. . .  The CCC became one of the New Deal’s most popular programs. By the time the United States entered World War II, the CCC had put more than 3 million young men*** to work . . . planting trees, thinning saplings, cutting firebreaks, building bridges, digging reservoirs – the gamut of vigorous outdoor activity to protect, enhance, and reclaim the nation’s natural resources.

What did the CCC do for Louisiana? According to Stan Cohen’s The Tree Army: A Pictorial History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942:514BF6E0D9L._SL500_AA240_

Tree planting, fire protection, and timber stand improvements of the state’s forests. . .  Soil binding grass and shrubs were planted, dams built, and water channels cleared for extensive flood control projects. . .  Many enrollees were engaged in hurricane and flood relief work. More than 51,800 men from the state were enrolled and more than 51,200 men served in the state. An average of 30 camps a year were operated with a total financial obligation within the state of more than $55,800,000.

Last March, Cindy Chang of the Times-Picayune wrote an interesting article about Louisiana veterans ofthe CCC. For comparison with neighboring states, Mississippi: 56,000 men, 33 camps, $60,900,000. Texas: 156,400 men, 58 camps, $11,600,000. Alabama: 66,000 men, 30 camps, $55 million. Florida: 49,000 men, 21 camps, $34 million.


WPA


The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was established in 1935, and at its peak employed some 3.5 million men and women. The WPA employed tens of thousands of Louisianans for jobs recommended by local officials. A WPA for our time could work on levees and other flood control projects.

In addition to the Bonnet Carre and Morganza control structures that were constructed during the Great Depression, WPA’s legacy in Louisiana – notable for its modest cost  – included a seawall in Mandeville, Pontchartrain Park and the Crescent City Golf Course at City Park. At LSU, WPA workers built a physics and mathematics building (present-day Nicholson Hall) and the U-shaped addition to Tiger Stadium that combined seats above and dorms below. In March 2009 Levees Not War reported:

Across the state WPA projects repaired or constructed 221 school buildings, 5 college dorms, 10 stadiums, 8 auditoriums; ran a free lunch program and an adult education program (385 teachers and over 15,000 students in 1937); and a bookbinding program paid workers to mend worn books, saving the state textbook purchasing costs.

We propose a substantial boost: expanding the 25 members of the AWCC by at least two orders of magnitude. In 1933 the original CCC paid a dollar a day, plus food, clothing, housing, and medical care. Workers were required to send $22 to $25 a month home to dependents. Wages today should be at least equivalent to the going per diem rate for unemployment compensation.

Momentum is now growing in Congress for a second stimulus package. This time around, hopefully more consideration will be given to creating jobs in environmental protection and reinforcing infrastructure.

In February, Governor Jindal declined the stimulus bill allotment of some $92 million in extended unemployment insurance for Louisiana. At that time the state’s jobless rate was 5.9%, or 122,000 unemployed. That rate has now risen to 7.8%, or about 161,000. Wouldn’t you think that some of the unemployed are able-bodied men and women willing to roll up their sleeves in an outdoor setting performing earth-friendly tasks?

In a present-day version of the WPA, cost-containment would be essential for maintaining public confidence. The cost of the original WPA was strictly monitored and impressively scrupulous for a government program.

Nick Taylor, author of American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work, has written in a NY Times Op-Ed that Roosevelt and WPA administrator Harry L. Hopkins designed a three-step process to review how the money would be spent, carefully screening applications, weeding out redundancy, selecting the most cost-effective projects, and employing a division to keep track of projects through completion.LNW_American-Made.2-209x300

The goal of our proposal is to initiate and help inform a discussion among public officials and coastal advocates in Louisiana and across the country. Critical, urgent needs should not be left to private contractors alone. Many people need work and the landscape needs TLC. We envision a happy marriage.

Edited by Len Bahr (len.bahr@gmail.com)

*Mark LaFlaur is the founder of LeveesNotWar.org, a New York-based, New Orleans- and Gulf Coast-dedicated blog whose motto is “National Security Begins at Home.” A graduate of LSU, he lives in New York City with his wife, Janet. Both work in book publishing. They return to New Orleans and Louisiana as often as possible.

**Any place touched by the Mississippi or its tributaries is affected by what happens to the great river’s delta. In practical terms, all Americans are affected because the Louisiana wetlands protect the energy infrastructure that supplies the nation’s oil and gas—remember when Katrina drove up fuel prices? They also buffer waterborne commerce (including 57% of U.S. grain exports) on the Mississippi River, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, and other channels from storm surge and hurricane damage. And then there’s the nation’s largest bounty of shrimp, oysters, and blue crab, and almost one-third of the fish harvested in the Lower 48—with nearly $3 billion in annual retail sales, employing about 40,000 in Louisiana.

***These days, young men and women would be recruited, from the hardest hit 20-something demographic category, like the young accounting graduate who parked Len Bahr’s car in Dallas last week.

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  5. There already IS a modern CCC–AmeriCorps*NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps). NCCC members do CCC-type work and have rebuilt thousands of homes on the Gulf Coast since Katrina and Rita. NCCC takes project applications and a wetland restoration project could easily be one of them. This would be much more efficient than starting a brand new corps.

    • Megan-
      I agree with you on not reinventing wheels. After pulling up the Americorps NCCC website I notice that the nearest campus is in Vicksburg MS, pretty far from the gulf coast. On the other hand I note that communities, NGOs or other entities can apply for local assistance.

      This post focuses on the enormous but somewhat specific need for coastal environmental programs such as tree planting (coastal reforestation). I’m wondering whether the America’s Wetland CC (AWCC) program is aware. Information anyone? Hilary Collis? Sidney Coffee? Mike LFlaur?

      • My campus was in Sacramento and I spent 4 months working on the coast, so don’t be discouraged about the distance between here and Vicksburg. NCCC has committed a large percentage of teams to the Gulf Coast. NCCC members are trained and prepared for manual labor such as tree planting and would be a great match for the restoration projects. I can help with the application for teams, or send you a successful application if anyone is interested in making this a reality.

  6. Just ain’t been Len’s week fer gittin the gun outta the holster before pulling the trigger…..

    Between sediment loads and EMAILS its been one for Ripley’s…..

    • Good idea!! We did a similer thing for Texas several years ago to
      harness High School dropouts for environmental projects and most obtained GED’s. The program is now under the Texas National Guard.
      I am a strong proponent of the “CCC” aproach and I personally learned a
      valuable skill through WPA:TAXIDERMY. This skill enabled me to complete high school and and earn a B.S. degree in zoology from LSU.
      The usual picture generated by WPA is a “road worker” leaning on a shoval. WPA turned my life around.

  7. Hello all,

    This is Hilary Collis, the author of the above email. I would like to clarify the above email. It was posted without my permission and this is a dated email that is no logner relevant.

    Since that time, the AW Foundation and the LSU AgCenter have worked out an agreement that will keep the AWCC program active in 2010. We have a current proposal out that would place 9 AWCC members working across the state to promote wetland conservation and wetland education. Whoever received the email I sent above has also received information about this new development.

    I apologize for any confusion. These are tough economic times but in spite of that, we are working to keep AWCC alive. If anyone is interested in donating to the AWCC program they can do so online at http://www.americaswetland.com.

    If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at hcollis@agcenter.lsu.edu.

    Hilary Collis
    Program Manager
    America’s WETLAND Conservation Corps.

  8. Sidney-
    I think that’s an option that Mark is suggesting in this post. On the other hand I received the following email from Hilary Collis with the LSU Ag Center that is not encouraging:

    Hey all,

    The following email is not an easy one to write and I’m sorry I have to send it out to such a large group, but there were too many of you to call individually.

    As you all know, over the summer the America’s WETLAND (AW) foundation was awarded an AmeriCorps grant from the Lt. Governor’s office that was to ensure the continuation of the AWCC program for 2010. The overall grant was set up that the Lt. Governor’s office contributed funds to maintain the program and the AW foundation also contributes funds as “match.” (This has been how AWCC has worked for the last 3 years as well).

    Last week I received a phone call from AW and was informed that they have been unable to come up with their “match” funds for a variety of reasons. We spent last week trying to figure a way around this rather large problem, but unfortunately, we have found no workable option. Because of this, I have to announce that there will be no AWCC program for 2010.

    I am incredibly sorry and I know this will be a shock to many of you. I’m still a little shocked myself. Please understand that the financial problem was something that my office was not aware of. AWCC is not being shut down through any fault of the members, site supervisors, my office, or anyone involved at the AgCenter. Until last week, we had not been made aware of the financial situation and had been told that everything was moving along fine.

    If anything changes regarding the financial status of the program, I will notify you immediately.

    You all have done an amazing job. Over the last 3 years the AWCC has recruited almost 20,000 volunteers, developed nearly 100 restoration projects, and been an invaluable asset to the Youth Wetlands program and other 4-H outreach education programs. I will do anything I can to assist members who were hoping to come back next year and also supervisors who had begun planning for members in their parishes.

    For members – We will continue to work hard for the remainder of the program and your contracts are still in place. You will continue to receive your living allowances through the end of your 11 month term and upon successful completion of the program, you will still receive your education award. There is just no positions to apply for that would begin this January. I will see you all on Nov. 14th for our final training.

    Site Supervisors – I will be notifying the Regional Directors and the Regional Coordinators. Please notify anyone else in your office that may need to know about this situation (parish chairs, community partners, etc).

    If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Thank you again for all your work and I am sorry our partnership will not continue for 2010.

    Hilary

    Hilary Collis
    Program Manager
    America’s Wetland Conservation Corps
    104 Sturgis Hall
    L.S.U. Baton Rouge, LA 70803
    Office: 225-578-4514
    Cell: 225-229-4300

  9. On the volunteer side…Why not build on what already exists – the America’s WETLAND Conservation Corps (AWCC) – instead of re-creating another program? The AWCC has been active for almost three years and to date has completed 190 hands-on projects with more than 59,000 service hours with more than 5,650 volunteers, and hosted numerous educational programs. Anyone interested in contributing to the AWCC’s efforts should go to the website – http://www.americaswetland.com and click on “donate”. Every contribution from individual donations goes directly to the AWCC effort! Of course, corporate sponsorships of the program are always welcome as well.

  10. Len & Mark, I give this renewal of an old and solid concept a conditional “BINGO.” I’m sure many will scoff at the idea of applying muscle-power to a challenge of such daunting scale as coastal restoration that we have been pouring millions of dollars using huge machines and energy budgets and an army of contractors and consultants to, thus far, mostly nibble at. But the processes of deterioration are inexorable and I believe that a lot could be accomplished to balance those by putting boots on the ground with shovels and dibbles (and other appropriate tools and strategies) working day-in-day-out on defending and nourishing our landscape. Of course, this would be real WORK and not a half day adventure topped off with a nice lunch and T-shirt. There are a lot of “iffys” with this idea, but it is worthy of further discussion, refinement and, perhaps, implementation.

  11. Charlie Viosca says:

    Sounds good to me.
    I remember the WPA when I was a small boy.

  12. There is a great need for something like this – a statewide conservation corps, in fact. There have been a number of volunteer efforts for the coast over the past decade, led by NGOs and federal agencies like USDA NRCS (often working in partnership), doing beach and marsh plantings. Numerous volunteer groups (church, civic, environmental) have visited New Orleans and coastal parishes after Katrina and Rita. Given the national job situation, along with our pressing environmental and coastal needs, it’s worth thinking on a scale like FDR and co. did.

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