June 2011 Coastal Scuttlebutt (cont.)
Comments on the flood response from upriver
A sharp-eyed reader sent a link to this provocative editorial on the Mississippi River levee system that was published yesterday in the Commercial Appeal, in Memphis. These comments appeared on the exact day that LaCoastPost carried a report card on the response by the Corps of Engineers to the Great Flood of 2011.
It’s encouraging to realize that some folks upriver from Louisiana are willing to challenge the traditional premises on which management of the Mississippi River system is based. Perhaps the Corps of Engineers and the members of the Mississippi River Commission will take note.
Gulf restoration like pissin’ in the wind?
In today’s The Advocate Gerard Shields reported that Gov. Jindal’s coastal advisor Garret Graves testified yesterday to the US Senate subcommittee on water and wildlife about the $1 billion prepayment from BP for oil damages incurred last year along the gulf coast. Graves apparently complained about insufficient public input and also that BP is controlling the expenditure of the funding. He’s right that gulf coast residents need to be informed about restoration priorities. On the other hand, public input without technical leadership would be like pissin’ in the wind.
I’m perplexed that, as discussed in yesterday’s Coastal Scuttlebutt, the day before Graves testified on The Hill the Gulf Restoration Task Force, established by President Obama, held its fifth and penultimate public meeting in Galveston. I can’t imagine that the task force, with leadership from EPA and other federal agencies and input from each gulf state, would let BP call the shots.
Am I missing something here or is this just another attempt by Governor Jindal to discredit the Obama administration?
Sediment deficit identified as top issue to restore gulf coast
Ramit Plushnick-Masti with the A/P reported today that sediment deficit was identified as a key issue in restoring the gulf coast, at a meeting yesterday in Galveston of the Gulf Coast Restoration Task Force. Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator, who chairs the task force and John Hankinson, executive director, stated that restoring the sediment supply of coastal wetlands and barrier shorelines is a top priority to restoring the gulf coast from damage both before and during the Macondo well blowout in April-July 2010.
It was reassuring to hear that the sediment deficit, and not the need for more boat ramps, was recognized as the key to gulf coast restoration.
Here’s a quote:
Terrence Salt, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Army-civil works, told The Associated Press that sediment flow has decreased due to management of upstream rivers and land conservation practices. For example, the Mississippi River — a major source of freshwater and sediment to the Gulf of Mexico, its islands and wetlands — has about half the sediment it originally had, he said.
The problems can be dated back to the late 1800s, when the U.S. began designing and building levees and structures along the Mississippi River to protect residents from flooding, Salt said. And while the constructions allowed people to live along the river, they impacted the flow of sediments crucial to life downstream.
Mr. Salt presumably didn’t mention that, as pointed out by LaCoastPost on July 31, 2009, his agency was aware as long ago as 1897 that a policy to constrain the river with levees would ultimately doom the Mississippi River delta from sediment starvation. This was revealed in a National Geographic article from December, 1897.
This graphic accompanies this morning gulf weather update in The Times-Picayune.
Corps proposes new river floodway
According to an AP story in today’s The Times-Picayune, Brigadier General Michael J. Walsh, Commander of the Mississippi River Valley Division of the Corps of Engineers, is reported to have said that the $1-2 billion needed to repair the levees damaged during the 2011 river floods may justify the construction of a new floodway to relieve pressure on levees.
Click here for the official description of the current system. General Walsh didn’t disclose the location of the additional floodway.
I would suggest that the general isn’t thinking nearly big enough. The corps should consider adding at least four floodways, one that he’s considering (location not disclosed), one in the Missouri basin and two at Myrtle Grove, downstream from New Orleans.
The Missouri basin structure should be designed to allow sediments that have been trapped behind dams on the Big Muddy, including the Gavin Point Dam, to bypass the dams and flow downstream to nourish America’s Delta.
In addition, a pair of diversion structures and floodways are desperately needed below New Orleans, in the vicinity of Myrtle Grove.
Given the traditional decades-long process under which public works projects are conceived, designed, authorized and funded, however, I won’t be holding my breath.
Oysters and the great river flood
Benjamin Alexander-Bloch reported in today’s The Times-Picayune that the flood impacts on Louisiana and Mississippi oysters may not have been as bad as expected, in that salinity levels are rebounding quickly.
Santorum, the ultimate denier of global warming
Only three of the announced Republican candidates for president have acknowledged that climate change is real and may be at least partly human caused: Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman…and dark horse Buddy Roemer. The rest are all adamant deniers, but none is as smugly certain that the scientists are wrong as Rick Santorum, who declared with a straight face in a HuffintonPost interview with Glen Beck that, “There’s no such thing as global warming.”
On June 24, highly respected statistician and political prognosticator Nate Silver ranked every candidate with even a remote chance of getting the GOP nod in terms of combined polling numbers and name recognition. Here’s the rank: Romney 30%, Cain 20%, Palin 13%, Bachmann 11%, Pawlenty, Gingrich and Paul 9% each, Santorum 6%, Giuliani and Huntsman 4% each, Perry 3%, Johnson and Roemer 1% each.
Santorum’s 6% current rank isn’t high but the combined rank of the three candidates who acknowledge global warming is only 35%. In other words, right now there’s a 65% likelihood that a climate change denier will wind up campaigning against Obama, who faces strong and growing public dissatisfaction with the current 9.1% unemployment rate.
For a reality check on anthropogenic climate change and global warming read Justin Willis’ June 4 NY Times article titled: A Warming Planet Struggles to Feed Itself.
Here are the final sentences from the article:
The United Nations recently projected that global population would hit 10 billion by the end of the century, 3 billion more than today. Coupled with the demand for diets richer in protein, the projections mean that food production may need to double by later in the century.
Unlike in the past, that demand must somehow be met on a planet where little new land is available for farming, where water supplies are tightening, where the temperature is rising, where the weather has become erratic and where the food system is already showing serious signs of instability.
“We’ve doubled the world’s food production several times before in history, and now we have to do it one more time,” said Jonathan A. Foley, a researcher at the University of Minnesota. “The last doubling is the hardest. It is possible, but it’s not going to be easy.”
As a citizen of an increasingly hungry and thirsty world and a resident of the American state most vulnerable to global warming, the chasm between politics and science by most of the candidates for the environmental policy ‘determinator’ in the world keeps me awake at night.
Nancy Rabalais, Ph.D., executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, and the dead zone guru of Louisiana, was interviewed yesterday by Ira Flatow on NPR’s Talk of the Nation Science Friday. They discussed her prediction that 2011 will see an all time record dead zone. Ira and Nancy discussed the recent repeated environmental insults to the gulf, including Macondo, the flood and the expected killer dead zone.
Not mentioned, unfortunately, was the unrelenting drip-drip of delta deterioration that is likely to proceed unabated…long after the dead zone dies. I predict that massive incidents of gulf hypoxia will cease when unaffordable diesel fuel makes energy-intensive corn culture impossible. I understand that nitrogen fertilizer is derived from currently abundant natural gas but this is only a small part of the energy cost of modern agriculture.
My recent post on the annual dead zone drama generated important feedback in the form of emails and a long and thoughtful critical comment posted by Don Boesch, Maryland-based hypoxia authority and frequent contributor. This is exactly why LaCoastPost exists and I greatly appreciate feedback, positive and negative.
How I’d spend the BP bucks
The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is administering the allocation of $1 billion that BP is prepaying for damages to the northern gulf coast related to the Macondo well blowout in April-July 2010. for projects to restore the northern gulf.
The ultimate fine, estimated at $15-20 billion, is still under determination.
I’m extremely cynical about the disposition of the prepayment and almost certain that the process will become totally politicized. If the funds are subdivided they will be squandered on small, meaningless, feel-good projects, rather than used for a few large scale significant efforts, such as a large diversion project at Myrtle Grove.
Thus today I submitted a proposal to NOAA that Louisiana’s portion of the funds ($100 million) should be allocated for two exclusive purposes: (1) $15-20 million to commission an independent science team to establish, within one year, a set of objective and realistic priority measures to sustain key portions of the deltaic plain; and (2) $80-85 million for the acquisition of surface rights or easements for at risk landscape that would then be available for example, as floodways for large scale river diversions or to prevent the logging of dying coastal forests.
Click on this link to submit your project proposals.
Impacts of oil stored in Louisiana salt domes
The hottest coastal story du jour is the decision by President Obama to withdraw 30 million barrels of crude oil (six Superdomes-full) that is currently stored in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) a system of huge hollowed out cavities in four coastal salt domes in Louisiana and Texas. The SPR was created in the 1970s by the federal government in response to the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo.
The decision was presumably made to offset the cutoff of sweet crude from Libya, so as to prevent the rise of domestic gasoline prices. Like virtually everything else announced by the White House, this decision was unanimously and predictably derided by state officials and oil industry reps.
This story was covered here by NPR’s Morning Edition, here by AP in The Times-Picayune, and here in The Advocate. I’m personally neutral about withdrawing the oil, not knowing enough about the various ramifications of the move.
Nevertheless, tapping the SPR took me back to 1973 when I was hired by LSU as a member of a coastal research team established to attempt to quantify the impacts of oil transported across our coast, not the impacts of exploring for and producing oil and gas. Our research was doomed to fail, in that it was largely limited to the direct incremental effects of the construction of large north/south pipelines connecting the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), a rapidly proliferating ‘garden’ of offshore rigs and the soon to be constructed SPR.
We recognized the risk of potential oil spills, but, as shown recently during the Macondo well blowout, we had virtually no information on direct, let alone indirect ecological impacts of coastal oil spills. Another huge potential impact that we recognized but did not attempt to quantify was the effect of brine pumped from onshore wells and leached out of the salt dome storage cavities. This highly toxic solution was either piped offshore into shallow waters or dumped directly into coastal marshes, ignoring its impacts on the estuarine ecosystem.
In other words, we were restricted to looking at the effects of cutting a few trees in a vast forest of oil-related operations, including exploration, production, transport and storage in a fragile and rapidly deteriorating delta. The intervening 38 years of coastal land loss from 1973 to 2011 since our impotent studies has equaled hundreds of square miles, of which upwards of 50% or more is attributed to oil and gas operations, including SPR operations.
Perhaps the biggest cumulative impact on south Louisiana of global oil production, here and around the globe, which we were ignorant about back in the day, is the estimated sea level rise (SLR) of the Gulf of Mexico by 2-3 mm/year over the 38 years. This rise is attributed to global warming attributed to the release of CO2 from the production and consumption of the oil. That’s a total of almost six inches deeper water, which does not include the effects of coastal subsidence in Louisiana, ten times higher than SLR in some locations!
The gasoline price to American drivers this summer is presumably driving the President’s decision to pump oil from the SPR. For some perspective about this statistic check out this five minute YouTube video clip that I found in HuffingtonPost today about the REAL cost of gasoline.
Oyster shells as gemstones? Holy mother of pearl!
Today’s The Times-Picayune published an editorial calling attention to one of the many time-wasting exercises that have distracted Louisiana legislators during the 2011 legislative session, which thankfully ends this evening at 6:00 PM. In case you haven’t heard, among other frivolous bills, pieces of polished oyster shells (mother of pearl) were declared Louisiana gemstones.
The American oyster Crassostrea virginica produces something far more valuable for our state than ‘jewelry.’ This keystone species filters our coastal water, removing hypoxia-causing organic nitrogen from the water column; it serves as an important prey item for a wide range of coastal critters, including us; and it played a very significant role in the formation of America’s Delta.
I came to Louisiana hoping to study the latter role of the oyster but I was blocked by politics from obtaining funding to carry out this research. To the dismay of those who appreciate the ecological function of the oyster as a reef-building mollusk, the state encouraged the shell dredging industry to destroy a huge ancient shell reef in Atchafalaya Bay, as well as the clam shell beds that formerly covered the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain.*
From the 1960s to the 1990s a severance tax of 25 cents/bushel for dredged oyster and clam shells helped fund the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, whose mission was (and is) to protect the wildlife and fishery resources of the state. Talk about conflicts of interest!
I’m just glad that our pols at the Capitol weren’t encouraged by the Department of Economic Development (DED) to pass a bill reviving the shell dredging industry as a new enterprise – the production and export of mollusk shell jewelry!
In his political column carried in today’s The Times-Picayune, John Maginnis also noted the utter failure of the governor and legislators to accomplish anything of significance during this session. Here’s the last statement of his assessment:
Overall, this Legislature could have done less, but they ran out of time.
*The clams are returning to the lake, since a moratorium on shell dredging drafted by then State Legislator, now State Senator Troy Hebert was signed by Governor Foster in 1996.
Surprise, surprise: increased rate of sea level rise confirmed in the Tar Heel state.
In today’s HuffingtonPost Randolph E. Schmid posted an advance notice of a new study in North Carolina to be published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showing that sea level is rising faster than at any time in the past 2,100 years. This confirms studies in Louisiana and elsewhere. Rising ocean water temperature is the cause (thermal expansion).
Shrimpers turn on big oil
In today’s The Advocate Mark Ballard described a protest rally by Louisiana shrimpers at the State Capitol yesterday in which they claimed that turtle deaths have been caused by offshore oil pollution, rather than drowning in trawls.
More on nutria
My post on the intercontinental swap of swamp-munching rodents prompted my daughter Emilie Bahr to send me this link to an article that she wrote in 2009 about a New Orleans entrepreneur who has been doing her part to control the nutria that plague the wetlands of south Louisiana.
Portly purveyor of Plaquemines sand piles is back in the news
Billy Nungesser, Jr. has announced his plans to run for statewide office, challenging Jay Dardenne for the post of Lieutenant Governor in the election this Fall. The Lt. Gov. has coastal responsibiiies, which makes the Plaquemines Parish Prez fair game for criticism.
Yesterday Jim Engster interviewed Nungesser on his show on WRKF-FM 89.3. During this interview the portly purveyor of piles of sand stoutly defended his response to the Macondo well blowout – and his apparent plans to build sand berms willy-nilly across the coast if he ever gets the chance. His position on the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) gives him a vote for that misguided effort, even if he doesn’t beat Mr. Dardenne.
CWPPRA criticism again
Speaking of digging up sediments for coastal redistribution in the absence of adult supervision, a canary in the coastal coal mine of my acquaintance is totally frustrated with a now-popular type of coastal restoration project under the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) program. This concept is known as marsh creation.
Here are some comments from this little yellow bird:
Creating a marsh by beneficially using dredged material makes sense. Creating a marsh by using sediment from the Mississippi River may be a reasonable thing to do, though expensive. Creating a marsh by using dredged material from offshore may be an acceptable tradeoff (though definitely not ideal by any stretch).
But creating marsh in interior wetland/estuarine systems by digging very deep holes adjacent to the new ‘marsh’ essentially amounts to “cannibailistic pseudorestoration” and probably creates inshore dead zones.
Nevertheless, this concept has become the CWPPRA magic bullet.
I’ve long been critical of the CWPPRA program for the way it selects projects (and other things). Back in the day, the favorite CWPPRA project used to be known as hydrologic restoration, aka modern marsh management. These were euphemisms for impounding freshwater marshes with levees and control structures, which no credible academic scientist ever supported. Creating new marshes using clay dug from borrow pits is slightly less bad but not by much.
Spending BP bucks
As reported by Benjamin Alexander-Bloch in today’s The Times-Picayune, Saturday is the deadline for submitting project ideas to the Louisiana Oils Spill Coordinator’s Office (LOSCO) re how best to spend $100 million BP Bucks coming to the State Treasury for coastal restoration. On May 5 I recommended specific measures, which I intend to forward to the LOSCO officials…on the remote chance that they may resonate with someone.
Disconnect on climate change opinion wide and still growing
The dawn of the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere of our little blue marble reminds me that the significance of this day has been recognized for thousands of years. This recognition long preceded even rudimentary understanding about how our earthly climate is controlled.
Current sophisticated knowledge of how and why climate has changed over hundreds of millions of years is truly awesome. Scientists now comprehend the geophysics of creeping continents and the fluid dynamics of slowly circulating ocean currents and a rapidly swirling atmosphere, both powered by and influencing the net input of solar radiation.
Nevertheless a diminishing fraction of the American population seems to appreciate what is known. This points up the bewildering fact that the tide of public support for climate science seems to be ebbing (at least in the US).
As reported by Scott Horsley on NPR’s Morning Edition, just as the 2012 presidential political climate heats up, public concern about climate change is cooling off. The climate issue has become hugely partisan during the last five years, with a large majority of Republican and Independent voters now dismissing the phenomenon as a liberal myth.
Horsley reports that fossil fuel interests have been ‘fueling’ the disconnect between public and scientific opinions about climate change, with millions of dollars spent on advertising about clean coal and the need for more, not less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
In a related story, also on Morning Edition, Richard Harris reported that the scientific community is virtually unanimous in acknowledging the overwhelming evidence for anthropogenic climate change, with huge global implications. Meanwhile the American public largely dismisses the reality and importance of climate change.
Harris reported that this disconnect appears to have been strongly influenced by media accounts. He cited the results of a recent opinion survey by a researcher named Anthony Leiserowitz, with the Yale University Project on Climate Change Communication. Here’s a quote:
“Most Americans have overwhelming trust in the science and trust in scientists,” he (Leiserowitz) said.
But the public is largely unaware of the consensus because that’s not what they’re hearing on cable TV or reading in blogs.
“They mostly get exposed to a much more conflicted view, and that’s of course not by accident,” he said.
I’d be interested to know how the opinions of Louisiana voters on global warming compare with those of average Americans outside our particularly vulnerable state.
Given the highly partisan and anti-science political rhetoric on this issue in the Bayou State I suspect that belief in the reality of climate change and concern about its implications of Louisiana voters would be even weaker here than elsewhere.
Nagin and Roemer in the news
In today’s The Times-Picayune Michelle Krupa did a great job describing the bizarre appearance of C. Ray Nagin on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night. I watched the interview with some bias, having been employed by Kathleen Blanco during Katrina, and having met with Hizzoner prior to Katrina. In any case, in my opinion Nagin seemed petty and defensive and didn’t do his legacy much good. He provided great fodder for Stewart’s insights about New Orleans and Louisiana politics.
Watch a video clip of the interview here.
Also in today’s The Times-Picayune Stephanie Grace reported on a speech to the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans over the weekend by another of my former bosses, former Gov. Buddy Roemer. Apparently, Buddy’s remarks were more reasoned and critical of both parties than the highly partisan crowd wanted to hear and he was received very cooly. Sometimes the truth hurts.
Scalise hip-hops from insults to demands on climate change issues
The Republican Leadership Conference met in New Orleans over a blistering June weekend, at the downtown Hilton, which John Dickerson described in Slate.com as being chilled to the temperature of a meat locker. According to Dickerson’s post, one of the most crowd-pleasing (and ironic) topics among the presidential wannabees interviewing for the most powerful position in the world was to denigrate global warming advocates.
On the subject of global warming and irony, a sharp-eyed colleague in DC sent this note on the goings-on of one of the stalwart members of the Louisiana congressional delegation, with this link to Scalise’s web site.
Congressman Steve Scalise is attacking the Obama administration’s work through its interagency task force to promote adaptation to climate change – calling it “back door implementation of cap and trade.” He got an amendment through the House to reject planning for the Ag department – a similar one passed the House to stop adaptation work in the Dept. of Homeland Security! What are they thinking?!
How is it “conservative” to waste money by not considering impacts of climate change to people, places, and things?
As long as Scalise and our other congressmen continue to deny climate change and global warming they cannot make a legitimate claim for federal coastal support. That doesn’t stop Scalise from hip-hopping from one contradictory position to another, however. Here’s a perfect example.
As we all know, a record 2011 river flood crest has now passed New Orleans, allowing the Bonnet Carre Spillway to close today. Three so-called 100 year river flood events have now occurred since the granddaddy event in 1927, 84 years ago. These successive floods don’t prove climate change but they fall in line with predictions of a dramatic increase in flood/drought cycles as human-caused greenhouse gases continue to rise in concentration.
The huge flow of river sediment has caused shoaling of the southern-most reach of the 45 foot navigation channel below New Orleans on which national commerce depends. Wouldn’t you know, one of the loudest voices in Louisiana for more federal money for dredging this channel* is also one of the loudest voices railing against spending federal funds to reduce American commercial CO2 emissions…our very own Rep. Steve Scalise. His hip-hopping may indicate that the pavement is too hot to stay on one foot.
*As shown in this editorial in today’s The Times-Picayune.
Legislators still making monkeys of themselves
James Gill wrote a sardonic opinion column for today’s The Times-Picayune in which he proposes banning all science teaching in Louisiana schools, rather than watch the slow erosion of the authority of science teachers to prepare students for the real world.
Gill points out that the Louisiana Senate Education Committee, chaired by Ben Nevers (D-Bogalusa), unanimously passed a bill by Rep. Frank Hoffman (R-West Monroe) that would give local yokels the right to censor science text books and remove marterial on evolution.
Never’s committee should be renamed the Senate Evangelical Committee. It’s basically a subsidiary of the Louisiana Family Forum, an absolutist, ultra fundamentalist organization hell-bent on promoting biblical creationism, taking Louisiana back to those halcyon days of William Jennings Bryan.
If you read nothing else today check out Gill’s piece. To quote a colleague, with thinkers like this at the State Capitol, the coast is toast.
T-P Dead zone editorial
The day after LaCoastPost featured gulf hypoxia and the science drama that is playing out behind the scenes, The Times-Picayune carried an editorial on the Monster Dead Zone that could be heading our way this summer. We’ll know for sure come August 6, when the annual survey is complete.
Bachmann endorses Creationism in New Orleans
An article in HuffingtonPost noted that Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachman challenged evolution and endorsed intelligent design in New Orleans yesterday. Ms. Bachman is doubtless aware that she’s among friends in Louisiana, with respect to the Jindal administration’s endorsement of this blatant insult to science in general and coastal science in particular. If the Tea Party captures the Republican party and if creationism becomes a plank of the Tea Party we’re back to Noah’s Ark as our only solution to a sinking coast.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul
Michelle Milhollen reported in today’s The Advocate that Chris Macaluso, from the National Wildlife Federation (a former colleague from the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities) railed against the fact that our state legislators are blatantly stealing $45 million from a ‘dedicated’ coastal reef fund to balance the books as the session winds down.
Tegan Wendland interviewed seasoned political commentator John Maginnis yesterday on Baton Rouge NPR affiliate station WRKF-FM 89.3, during which Maginnis explained exactly how one time ‘dedicated’ funds are shuffled around by our state legislators to balance the budget. What a system.
State legislator called out as demagogue
Our coast is in crisis and I’m increasingly impatient that our politicos dance around the real issues. Yesterday I criticized a state legislator named John LaBruzzo from Metairie, who has been introducing legislation that I find particularly abhorrent and that squander time and money on bogus issues. Thus it was gratifying to read this editorial in The Times-Picayune that calls out Mr. LaBruzzo as a demagogue cast from the David Duke mold.
House caves to the governor on tobacco…and misses coastal opportunity
Michelle Millhollen reported in today’s The Advocate that a vote yesterday to override the governor’s idealogical – and illogical – veto of a bill to renew the four penny cigarette tax fell twelve votes short in the Louisiana House of Representatives.
…(Rep.) Richie, the bill’s sponsor and a smoker himself, said he never wanted the issue to implode into a possible override of the governor’s veto. He said he tried to reason with the Jindal administration to no avail.
He said the 4-cent tax generates $12 million a year for the state and could generate roughly $50 million for health care if it is leveraged to attract federal dollars.
Among the house members who voted with Governor Jindal to reduce the cost of cigarettes was John Labruzzo, (R-Dist. 81) who apparently believes that a pregnant twelve year old raped by her uncle should not be allowed to get an abortion but she should still be able to afford smokes to help relieve her stress.
The $50 million that the state won’t receive from tobacco sales and federal bucks next year could have paid for a massive TV campaign to dissuade future cancer victims…while more than offsetting the cost to build a new physical model of the river system.
River levee repairs will be expensive; will southern governors support it?
Holbrook Mohr reported in HuffingtonPost that repairing the Mississippi River levees after the flood will cost a billion dollars. This poses an interesting dilemma for anti-tax southern governors. Where do they think this money should come from, a money tree? Maybe they could hold a giant tea party and ask for donations.
71 years ago today a baby boy was born in the coastal town of Baltimore who was eventually destined to wind up in south Louisiana writing about coastal issues. Come to The Maison, 508 Frenchman St. in New Orleans tomorrow around five to discuss the rest of the story.
June 16 (Bloomsday for fans of James Joyce)
CPRA meeting better than usual
Yesterday I complained about having to choose between attending the June meeting of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), or staying home to write. Because the CPRA is the highest arbiter (other than the Governor) of state coastal policy the meetings occasionally generate nuggets of news, providing that a spectator is sufficiently patient to sit through hours of self congratulatory rhetoric.
Yesterday’s meeting was somewhat better than most, in that some important issues were addressed and the chairman (Garret Graves) allowed some public comments prior to the end of the meeting…when most folks have already left. Apparently I was the only member of the media present, either a sign of the general shortage of reporters or the importance by which these meetings are judged.
The meeting led off with a report on state and federal responses to the 2011 river flood impacts. The discussion was a near unanimous celebration of the enormous success of what was clearly a well-coordinated effort to protect population centers. Advanced computer models of precipitation patterns and flow volumes of components of the river system are making a big difference in providing advanced flood warning and appropriate relief responses by opening the three floodways.
I was intrigued by Garret Graves’ assertion that the flood-borne sediment wasted by our not being able to disperse it within the delta would have built three fourths of a square mile of coastal landscape. I’d like to know more about the calculation of that figure.
I couldn’t stay until the bitter end of the meeting but my interest was piqued by several other discussion topics, including recognition that the 20 year-old Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) has become largely irrelevant to the increasingly obvious coastal priorities.
As reported here in January 2009, CWPPRA has long been a Titanic deck chair rearrangement program, marginalized and failing to effectively integrate with high priority needs. Thus it was refreshing to see the CPRA acknowledge that coastal deterioration will never be reversed by band-aid CWPPRA projects that waste money without addressing what CPRA chairman Garret Graves said was a $120 billion dollar challenge.* As a result, the state is considering refusing to cost share future projects, such as armoring the banks of navigation channels.
A philosophical discussion of conflicts between national navigation policy and increasing flood risk and land loss in Louisiana’s part of the lower river was interesting but didn’t resolve anything. This discussion pointed up the irony that in our time of need Louisiana has lost its historical political clout. The federal budget crisis, the impotency of Louisiana’s congressional delegation and the stream of anti-Obama rhetoric from the 4th floor of the Capitol don’t help in terms of making an effective case for national attention.
The most interesting part of the meeting was a brief description by John Barry, who compared the 2011 flood with the largest river flood in history in 1927, when about a third more water poured down the river funnel into Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. I plan to say more about his comments in an upcoming post-flood wrap up.
* The latter figure is highly speculative and questionable in my opinion, in terms of insufficiency and unfundability.
Public information; really?
Today I’m in the mood for a coastal rant. As a hardworking, voting and tax paying citizen of the US of A and the great state of Louisiana, I expect certain modest government services in return.
In terms of my federal taxes, I was strongly opposed to the shooting war in Iraq; I’m only slightly less opposed to the one in Afghanistan; and the covert war on terrorism or the never ending and absolutely ill-conceived war on drugs make me crazy. I’d much prefer to see the Department of Defense use a little of its always expanding budget for a war on climate change and global warming.
As for my state taxes, I’d love to see my legislators address real issues like education, health care…and coastal science. But I digress.
As I write this I’m preparing to drive downtown for the June meeting of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), which I learned about only yesterday. Attending this meeting involves more than just showering, shaving and putting on more than underwear…my usual writing attire. There’s also the opportunity cost of altering my plans for today, including work on two feature posts.
Having worked in the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities (GOCA) for 18 years, 12 of which as its director, one would think that I’d be on a list to receive routine notices of upcoming state coastal events and meetings, wouldn’t one? How much of my state tax dollars would it cost to update my current email address on a list-serve?
In September 2008 at my informal GOCA retirement party* at Superior Grill I announced plans to create LaCoastPost. My modest ‘business plan’ involved combining my broad experience in coastal science and coastal policy in Louisiana with an awesome list of personal contacts established over the years, to provide readers with inside coastal information not typically available in the press.
In addition to sincere expressions of good will, I got something more valuable than a gold watch. I got a promise from Garret Graves, who inherited my old job as the governor’s coastal guru, for a steady stream of information that I could post to help inform LaCoastPost readers.
Now Garret’s a very busy man and I certainly didn’t expect him to personally notify me in advance of important policy changes. He and I disagree on many topics, which is hardly surprising, given our different political philosophies, views of science and sets of priorities.
He had been urging me to retire for several months and we were both relieved when I consented. In addition, I make no secret of many profound disagreements with Garret’s boss. Once during a chance conversation in the throes of the Macondo well blowout Garret accused me of publishing misinformation about the notorious $220 million sand berm project, to which I replied that were I to be provided with information other than street scuttlebutt we’d both be better off.
At a minimum I would expect a modicum of professional respect, at least enough to be provided with press releases and meeting notices.
My contact information has not exactly been secret, although two successive google email accounts were compromised since I retired, resulting in three email address changes. In addition, most of my former GOCA colleagues have moved on. Nevertheless I find it unconscionable that my name has apparently been added to a Do-not-contact list by the Jindal administration.
My complaint about an information blackout is not limited to the state and to the Jindal administration, however. The US Geological Survey (USGS) manages the National Wetlands Research Center (USGS NWC) in Lafayette. Officials at that institution manage Watermarks, an online newsletter for the Coastal Wetland Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA). They know me very well and they have resolutely refused repeated requests to include a link to LaCoastPost. They don’t even include me on the list of folks that receive routine notices of coastal events.
Am I missing something here?
*Kindly arranged by my former associates in that office, including Karen Gautreaux and Cynthis Duet.