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‘Fake news’ about the coastal master plan — I can’t make this stuff up, folks.

Graphic from 2017 Comprehensive Coastal Master Plan, as signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards. Future flood risk in 50 years, absent $92 billion investment to implement plan and global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Graphic from 2017 Comprehensive Coastal Master Plan, as signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards. Future flood risk in 50 years, absent $92 billion investment to implement plan and global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

by Len Bahr, Ph.D.

Master Plan has tons of supporters and pounds of detractors

On June 2 published a report by Faimon Roberts III that the Louisiana House unanimously approved the 2017 Comprehensive Coastal Master Plan, which had already been approved by the state senate. Since then Gov. John Bel Edwards has signed off on the plan. Now everyone’s pleased, right?

Not so fast. On February 27 Ed Richards with the LSU Law School authored a report asserting that the Master Plan cannot and will not succeed. His proposed alternatives would: (1) abandon costly efforts to recreate currently subaqueous former wetland and barrier headlands; (2) opt to spend limited funds to build higher levees, including the environmentally egregious $11 billion Morganza-to-the-Gulf project; and (3) encourage coastal evacuation.

Although I strongly disagree with Richards’ opinions on the master plan I have my own bones to pick with the document, which I roundly criticized in a post dated March 20. Among a number of other issues, I can’t for the life of me comprehend how it is possible that in 2017 the entire Atchafalaya Basin, a huge part of America’s Delta, is left out of this so-called comprehensive plan, along with the world’s largest river water and sediment management device, the Old River Control Structure.

Here are some other issues.

The public, not the perps, asked to pick up the reparations tab for coastal damages from the oil and gas industry 

On June 4 | TheTimes-Picayune published a spot-on piece by Bob Marshall describing the lies used by certain prominent oil and gas industry reps to rationalize their avoidance of paying reparations for decades of coastal damage caused by their actions. Meanwhile, on June 26 | The Times-Picayune published a report by Mark Schleifstein that the Walton Family Foundation announced a $15 million grant to the Mississippi River Delta Coalition to continue its work to implement the 2017 master plan. It should be noted that this group of three national and two local NGOs have never endorsed the concept of suing the oil and gas industry to pony up for coastal damages. That’s one reason I refer to this group as the silent ecolambs.

We don’t need your stinking mud

Meanwhile, home grown scientists continue to provide critical coastal knowledge, under the noses of, but largely ignored by, members of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA). For example, the sound of crickets from this august body accompanied what should have been a game-changing revelation by noted geologist/ecologist G. Paul Kemp, Ph.D. Dr. Kemp, et al. showed how the 50% reduction in the suspended sediment load carried by the lower river since the 1950s could be overcome. Kemp is the senior author of a 2016 peer-reviewed study showing that the suspended sediment load carried by the lower Mississippi River could effectively be doubled by accessing fine clay liberated from behind small dams constructed during the 1950s on the lower watershed of the Missouri River (the Big Muddy). This change would effectively double the benefits of landscape building sediment diversion projects. For reasons that defy comprehension, this concept has been virtually ignored — in a program severely challenged by funding shortfalls.

Still subsiding, albeit faster than before

On June 14| TheTimes-Picayune published an interview by Mark Schleifstein with Torbjörn E. Törnqvist, Tulane geology professor and the world’s leading expert on subsidence along the northern Gulf coast. Tornqvist has overseen a critical new study of subsidence in coastal Louisiana. Results of this study, clearly fake news, were presumably leaked anonymously* to Schleifstein and his fellow travelers, including Chelsea Harvey at the Washington Post, who reported about it on June 15.

Seeking support for the master plan from Uncle Donald

On June 16 a white paper was sent to the Trump Administration by the CPRA, pleading to speed up project permitting procedures so as to allow implementation of the master plan. On June 17 | The Times-Picayune published a report by Mark Schleifstein on why this request is justified. On June  21 the same media source published an editorial about the unconscionable delay by the feds in terms of permitting high priority coastal projects in the plan, including the Mid-Barataria sediment diversion project. This editorial points out that streamlining the permit for five top projects should be a no-brainer, given that funding is underwritten by BP fines, not dollars from the federal treasury.

On June 21 Chris Dalborn, who writes the TUWaterways newsletter for the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy, summarized the challenge of acquiring federal support for fast-tracking the master plan by streamlining the permitting process. Spoiler alert: Dalborn’s piece is anything but optimistic.

Hurricane season arrives right on time to find pants around federal agency ankles

Speaking of The Donald, on June 5 published an op/ed by Stephanie Grace describing how the POTUS continues to ignore the coastal state of our state in which 58% of the electorate voted for him. After five months in office and well into the onset of the 2017 hurricane season, Trump has failed to complete the appointments of the heads of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Hurricane Center (under NOAA) and the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA). If worst comes to worst and we’re struck by a major storm, imagine the consequences of having no one in charge at the federal level to coordinate recovery and relief efforts.

Climate change studiously ignored by Louisiana authorities

Speaking of anomalies at the onset of hurricane season, coastal spokespeople remain silent about climate-related issues. For example, on the very week that Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the U.S. from the Paris Accord, not a single word on climate change was uttered on LPB’s June 2nd interview with our state climatologist Barry Keim about the onset of the 2017 hurricane season on Louisiana the State We’re In. The plethora of local news stories about Tropical Storm Cindy also failed to acknowledge this elephant in the room.

I must note that Val Marmilion, the spokesman behind a prominent coastal lobbying group known as America’s Wetland Foundation, issued a position paper titled Trump’s coastal restoration disconnect, which totally ignored the issue of climate change and the Paris Accord decision. On June 25 |TheTimes-Picayune published an op/ed by Bob Marshall that shows the sheer hypocrisy of Louisiana elected officials re the cost of withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord. Here’s a quote:

Trump and our Republican-dominated delegation have long opposed regulations aimed at reducing emissions, casting doubt and sometimes derision on the conclusions by 97 percent of the world’s experts on climate change.
What are the qualifications these politicians use to support their opposition?
Trump: real estate developer, reality TV show star.
Rep. Scalise: a degree from LSU in political science and computer technology.
Rep. Clay Higgins, former police officer.
Rep. Mike Johnson, lawyer.
Rep. Ralph Abraham, physician and former veterinarian.
Rep. Garret Graves, no college degree, but in-depth knowledge on Louisiana’s climate risks while heading the CPRA for four years.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, physician.
Sen. John Kennedy, lawyer.

*Just kidding

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  1. Jim Rives says:

    OK, people who know me know that I am not agog about the Corps, but with respect to permit delays, it is my understanding that the CPRA has not yet even submitted permit applications at this date. Therefore, it seems unfair to criticize the regulatory agencies for setting a date in 2022 for permit issuance, particularly when there is a good chance that the permitted actions will be controversial and that public comments and concerns will need to be addressed by both CPRA and the Corps during the permit process.

    By the way, I think that the credibility of the CPRA was damaged by its “sand berm” projects. The CPRA deemed those projects “urgent” too, and the CPRA leadership chastised the regulatory agencies for “delaying” them.

    As for the “obvious” overriding public interest of these restoration projects, during my 30 year career as a coastal regulator I heard that same justification from oil and gas operators (national energy self-sufficiency), real estate developers (affordable housing, esp. after Katrina), the Louisiana highway department (protection levees and roads), and new steel and chemical plants (jobs in a slow economy). Bear in mind that I do not necessarily accept those reasons as justifications for permit issuance, but it is not up to me – it up to the agencies to review and balance the benefits and impacts pursuant to their statutory obligations.

    In any event, the Louisiana Coastal Resources Program’s Coastal Use Permits for the Master Plan projects will no doubt be issued in a timely fashion, as state restoration projects – by statute – are in the public interest.

  2. Steve Underwood says:

    Len and Ed, another option for dealing with the continued wetland loss (and what to do about it-other than complete evacuations)is currently in the throws of implementation by the Office of Community Development-termed La S.A.F.E (La Strategic Adaptations to Future Environments). I would encourage you to review and potentially LACOASTPOST a story on this program. The link to the site is:
    I have personally been involved in the La coastal Restoration program, off and on, since 1990, and I would have to say, the timing for this La SAFE endeavor has never been better. In my opinion, It’s one of the more proactive and progressive resilience policy frameworks I have ever seen in State and/or Federal Government. The following was staements were directly taken from LaSAFE documents- “LaSAFE hinges on three core ideas: 1) Land is disappearing; therefore, we have no choice but to “resettle” communities we cannot fortify; 2) We cannot survive, let alone thrive, without our working coast. Moreover, that coast cannot survive without a robust connection between economic activity and the workforce that drives it. To this end, we must “retrofit” strategically-located vital communities so they may withstand future risk; 3)As land disappears, we must maximize available high-ground territories, incentivizing high-quality development intended to foster economic and population growth. We must “reshape” these communities to fully maximize their highest and best uses.” And Finally, this program aligns directly with the State’s MP and utilizes the science and analysis of risk depicted in the MP. This program furthers my hope and vision for Louisiana’s Coast, and combined with the MP’s projects (Structural and non-structural)may help strategically target those 800 sq miles to areas of greatest need based on the this resilient policy framework.

  3. Thanks for cite, Len. Just a clarification: I do not advocate building Morganza to the Gulf and other crazy levee systems. The article was about protecting against storm surge. My point is that the only thing in the master plan that can prevent storm surge is levee construction: If you want to spend money on preventing surge, you have to spend it on levees. Wetlands do not stop surge. I do think we should maintain and strengthen existing levees with the limited funds available until we can evacuate the coast. Since we will not evacuate the coast until the federal government stops subsidizing flood insurance and stops providing disaster relief, there is enough long term work necessary on the existing levees to eat up every dime of restoration money.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m a little confused. I thought an environmental impact study was good for the environment. I am not s scientific expert so I may be missing something.

      • Anonymous-
        Environmental impact studies are meaningless unless elected officials take them seriously.

    • Anonymous says:

      The mantra for the MP is that wetlands stop or reduce storm surge. Ed Richards says or implies wetlands do little to stop storm surges. Could someone please clarify the arguments for and against the idea that wetlands impact storm surge.

    • Anonymous says:

      Fake news is disconnecting global warming from coastal land loss. We are good at that here in Louisiana. And then we want the rest of the nation to pay for our special problem because it so vital to the rest of the world. The masterful thing about the Master Plan is smoke and mirrors.

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