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New coastal czar more intern than expert

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Chip Kline, newest Louisiana Coastal Czar (photo from nola.com)

Chip Kline, newest Louisiana Coastal Czar (photo from nola.com, courtesy the Louisiana Governor’s Office)

by Len Bahr, Ph.D.

Please forgive me in advance for this, the most immodest post I’ve written in the six plus years since I inaugurated LaCoastPost. My subject is the holder of the most important position in state government in terms of coastal issues. I’m speaking about the appointee most responsible for advising the governor on all things coastal.

January 23 was a friday, the ideal day of the week for a government official to issue a controversial news release intended to go unnoticed. Thus on Friday afternoon Governor Bobby Jindal announced the resignation of his chief coastal advisor Jerome “Zee” Zeringue, to be replaced by Chip Kline, a virtual unknown in the broad community of coastal residents, users, advocates and investors.

The following quote is from The Advocate’s Capitol Buzz on January 24 (my highlights added):

Gov. Bobby Jindal on Friday announced the appointment of Chip Kline as chairman of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, known as CPRA. The job involves overseeing state work on a massive, multibillion-dollar coastal restoration plan.

The Governor’s Office said Jerome “Zee” Zeringue — who had been in the position for less than a year — has left the job “to pursue other opportunities.” Kline had worked as deputy director for coastal activities in Jindal’s office before being named CPRA chairman.

Zeringue was paid $160,000 annually for the job. The Governor’s Office said Kline would be paid $135,000 a year.

The following quote is from an article by Benjamin Alexander-Bloch in nola.com|thetimes-picayune published on January 25 (my highlights added):

Prior to serving as deputy director, Kline served as a policy advisor for coastal issues in the governor’s office. Prior to joining the Jindal administration, Kline served as a special assistant to former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

“We’ve made more progress in restoring and protecting our coast over the last several years than any other time in our state’s history, but we still have more work to do,” Kline said in a statement. “We will continue to push ahead with the same dedication and sense of urgency.”

With respect to the latter statement by Mr. Kline on pushing ahead I would point out that the single most expensive, most destructive and least justified project in the history of Louisiana’s coastal restoration program is the Morganza-to-the-Gulf project. This 92 mile seawall and gate complex has not been supported by a single credible coastal scientist but it’s been signed off on by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who estimated its cost at $11 billion.

The levee alignment for this project is obsolete, having been designed many years ago (before it became partially located in open water) but the state has insisted on building a modest levee base on the original alignment. The strategy is obviously to assume that the feds will ultimately come in and complete the ‘home-built’ levee to an elevation that the state could never afford either to construct or to maintain. Keep all of this in mind while reading the following quote from Alexander-Bloch’s article (my emphasis added):

Zeringue had served as the Terrebonne Parish levee authority director before becoming Graves’ second in command. The Terrebonne Parish levee authority has been instrumental in construction of the Morganza to the Gulf levee that will provide increased protection to Houma and the areas surrounding it.

I’m certain that Mr. Kline will concur with his predecessor Zee that Morganza-to-the-Gulf is a worthy project, because it’s very popular in Terrebonne Parish. By now he should know that the game is fixed.

Let me make it clear that I hold no animus toward Mr. Kline, whose face I wouldn’t have recognized and whose name I’d never heard before reading the announcement with his photo (above) in which he looks more like an aspiring politician than a coastal expert.

Seven people have been appointed executive assistant to the governor in the office of coastal activities since 1989, when the sitting governor first got to appoint a coastal advisor. Here’s how I would rank the effectiveness of the folks who have held this post and the governors they worked for. My ranking is based on: scientific knowledge base, holistic philosophy, objectivity, candor, political acumen, length and breadth of experience, record of thinking outside of the traditional coastal box and time served in the governor’s office:

(1) Len Bahr (Roemer, Edwards, Foster, Blanco and Jindal); (2) Karen Gautreaux (Roemer, Edwards, Foster and Blanco); (3) Garret Graves (Jindal); (4) David Chambers (Roemer); (5) Sidney Coffee (Blanco); (6) Jerome “Zee” Zeringue (Jindal); and now (7) Chip Kline (Jindal) who, although he has no record, his background is notably unimpressive.

Before assuming that I’m a bitter, disgruntled, curmudgeonly retiree, I must say that I’ve never felt more free to be objective and to openly challenge a truly dysfunctional and cash-poor coastal protection and restoration program. If Bobby Jindal wanted to send a more pointed signal about his disinterest in the Louisiana coast than by appointing a coastal novice to this position he’d have had a difficult time.

Editor’s note: After posting this piece I received the following email message from a reliable coastal confidant, who I hope is correct:

I would humbly have to disagree with you about Chip.
He is anything but unknown and unlike the previous two, he is not a political animal. He is a good person with integrity and I have high hopes for what he will bring to the position. 

I guess the proof will be in the pudding…when tough decisions are called for.

L.B.

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  1. Kelly Haggar says:

    If my better half – – and host of geo-folks (in and out of industry, such as all over academia and gummit)- – are right, the engineering doesn’t matter as long as the geology is not taken into account.

    And that’s true no matter what the climate does. (The 89th stab wound didn’t do Caesar any harm.)

  2. The governor’s priorities are clear in the most recent announcements about the Master Plan. The governor wanted RAM terminal over the Mid-Barataria diversion, or at least didn’t want the restoration program to stop any export development.

    We had to sue to get DNR to consider the conflict. We won, but it’s a sad victory that such an obvious conflict couldn’t be handled by the Jindal administration, that the coastal program would be so obviously subordinated to quick money in the export boom.

    Here’s the timeline. in June 2012 DNR was talking about permit conditions and a modelling study. By october, everyone knew that the modelling study was VERY unfavorable to RAM’s interest, so the process was thrown out in favor for an MOA by February 2013. By July 2013, the MOA was signed. December 2014, local judge rules that the alternatives analysis is bunk.

    http://sonris-www.dnr.state.la.us/sundown/cart_prod/cart_crm_view_cmnt?pcup_num=P20120190

    Now there’s another export terminal being permitted in front of the Maurepas Diversion, and again the initial concerns of CPRA engineers (August 2013) are swept away by the MOA process, which happened even faster this second time.

    http://sonris-www.dnr.state.la.us/sundown/cart_prod/cart_crm_view_cmnt?pcup_num=P20131054

    This project is currently under evaluation for federal funding, and this is what Jindal et al are doing?

    It’s clear where the governor’s priorities lie, and they are not with the restoration program.

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