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Challenging over exuberant endorsements of the 2017 coastal master plan

Coastal projects endorsed by the Coalition to Restore the Mississippi River Delta. Note that projects 12-17 are projects involving the dredging and pumping of sediments from nearby subaqueous sources, which are unsustainable given future declining ERoI, diesel fuel costs, and the need to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. (Graphic from the

Caption: Coastal projects endorsed by the Coalition to Restore the Mississippi River Delta. Note that projects 12-17 involve the unsustainable energy intensive practice of dredging and pumping sediments from nearby subaqueous sources. (Graphic from

by Len Bahr, Ph.D.


Now that Thanksgiving is history and 2017 is (thankfully) coming to a close it’s appropriate to take stock of Louisiana’s coastal protection and restoration program, now about 25 years old.

On October 16 Johnny Bradberry, the governor’s chief coastal advisor and chairman of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) appeared before the Baton Rouge Press Club to discuss the current status of the highly touted $50 billion master plan to protect and restore our embattled coast during the coming 50 years or so. According to an account of his appearance by Sue Lincoln in, Bradberry acknowledged that the plan is currently underfunded, but he expressed optimism that sufficient funding will in fact materialize, and he telegraphed no doubt that the plan would succeed if funded.

The twin issues of funding and effectiveness deserve further discussion.

Funding for the Master Plan

The 2017 master plan was unveiled during the notably unpredictable Trump political era, dominated as we speak by congressional budget debates over huge tax cuts for the 1%, an imminent government shutdown, a push for open-ended offshore oil and gas drilling and a ludicrous border wall to prevent illegal Mexican immigration. Thus Mr. Bradberry’s optimism re shaking loose a $50 billion federal check* seems highly misplaced. On October 19 Louisiana sixth district GOP congressman Garret Graves suggested, perhaps facetiously, that coastal funding could be paid by reprogramming funds that were appropriated for compliance with the Endangered Species Act.

Graves’ rationale for this outlandish proposal was that the Cajun residents of South Louisiana have been specifically victimized as a tribal class ‘endangered’ by coastal landless, which he claims is caused primarily by misguided federal policy instigated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). In addition to the off the wall implication that Louisianians with Acadian ancestry have been specifically targeted by federal policy, Graves’ repeated claim that the feds are totally responsible for our dire situation ignores the huge loss of wetland landscape triggered by the following state and local policy decisions: (1) encouraging the clear cutting of virtually all old-growth Bald-cypress and Tupelo gum coastal forests; (2) permitting by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR) for the virtually unrestricted behavior of the oil and gas industry; (3) the disastrous state decision in 1904 to sever Bayou Lafourche from Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes; (4) the shameful state record of lobbying the feds in 1962 to dredge the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO; and (5) supporting the concept of creating a new fur industry literally on the backs of the invasive, voracious nutria rat (Myocaster sp.) from Argentina. Finally, Graves and his fellow travelers in Louisiana’s GOP delegation have scrupulously ignored the rising existential threat of anthropogenic climate change, in which the USACE plays almost no role.

A notice from the CPRA on October 19 described a grab bag of funding sources for various coastal projects adding up to an impressive sounding $1.2 billion, which is only a token 2% contribution to the funding schedule outlined in the master plan. On October 18 Mark Schleifstein reported in | TheTimes-Picayune that anticipated coastal monies from offshore revenue sharing from deepwater drilling (from the GOMESA program) are to be cut in half this year, from $140 million to $70 million. Keep in mind the fact that the public at large is easily confused by discussions that involve millions vs. billions of dollars.

Recreating coastal landscape by dredging and pumping local sediments

It should be noted here that the lion’s share of the master plan budget is earmarked for short term landscape recreation, using the energy-intensive practice of dredging and pumping sediments from local subaqueous sources. These projects are unsustainable, given accelerating sea level rise and ongoing subsidence, future declining energy return on investment (ERoI), and a probable increase in cost of diesel fuel during the upcoming decade. Then there’s the irony of basing a restoration strategy on the use of fossil fuel to overcome a problem largely caused by both the fuel’s production and the climatic impact of combusting it.

Graphic from Theriot, 2014.

Graphic from Theriot, 2014.

On November 23 | TheTimes-Picayune published a report by Tristan Baurick that describes the problem of finding offshore borrow sites for the dredged sediment that aren’t too close to existing pipelines so as not to jeopardize pipeline integrity. This problem was articulated by the late geology professor Shea Penland at LSU and UNO, who was a major proponent of restoring barrier beaches by dredging offshore sands. Dr. Penland envisioned mining high quality sand from a long subsided subdelta lobe known as Ship Shoal off of Terrebonne Parish.

The problem was that when oil production moved offshore during the postwar years, LDNR shortsightedly granted permits for separate pipeline trajectories for individual companies, rather than requiring common pipeline corridors to be shared by all permitees. See the accompanying map of the incredible maze of extant offshore pipelines that resulted from this shortsighted policy. This graphic was taken from a 2014 book American energy, imperiled coast by Jason P. Theriot. Here’s a quote from a promotional blurb about the book from its publishers at LSU Press:

In American Energy, Imperiled Coast Jason P. Theriot explores the tension between oil and gas development and the land-loss crisis in Louisiana. His book offers an engaging analysis of both the impressive, albeit ecologically destructive, engineering feats that characterized industrial growth in the region and the mounting environmental problems that threaten south Louisiana’s communities, culture, and “working” coast.

Master Plan endorsement by Ecolambs

On November 15 the published an article by Steve Hardy describing a list of 17 projects included in Louisiana’s 2017 so-called comprehensive $50 billion coastal master plan that have been endorsed by technical representatives from a group of five environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs). | TheTimes-Picayune published a similar report that day by Sara Sneath.

The five NGOs call themselves the Coalition to Restore the Mississippi River Delta. This coalition includes The National Wildlife Federation (NWF), the Environmental Defense Fund (ERF), the National Audubon Society, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL) and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation (LPBF).* None of these groups currently employs staffers with the credentials of senior level coastal scientists. In fact, these groups have come to be dominated by staff more interested in public relations than with the projections of sophisticated state-of-the-art hydrodynamic modeling required to test the feasibility of implementing each of these 17 projects.

Therefore, with all due respect I would challenge the recommendations from these NGO reps, who lack not only the technical creds but also the political fortitude and candor to provide an objective appraisal. Despite its widespread support by this coalition and the CPRA, the master plan as currently described would not sustain America’s Delta through 2050. The fact is that the credible coastal scientific community, both local and international, agrees that the master plan would not succeed, even if fully funded and implemented.

The plan even acknowledges this harsh reality by conceding that full implementation would only reduce projected landless by 800 sq mi, so would not provide any net gain in landscape area. Most Louisiana officials and the CPRA folks who determine coastal policy, and the environmental boosters who cheerlead from the sidelines, either downplay or ignore this dirty little secret.

What is needed is a credible science review board to weigh in on the master plan and to provide a candid view for both the officials and the public. The problem is that during the eight Jindal years the voice of independent science was stifled. Our level of scientific and engineering expertise advanced dramatically between the 2012 publication of the former iteration of the master plan and now. That fact is not obvious from a casual read of the body of the current plan, however.

Graphic from:

Graphic from global

Absent aggressive global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the near term climate change, including eustatic sea level rise of up to 20+ ft. by 2050 will render obsolete by drowning all 17 projects endorsed by the ecolambs. As discussed by Robinson Meyer in the on March 13, the Trump administration makes such a reduction increasingly unlikely. Coincidentally, on November 13 Huffpost published a sobering piece by Alexander C. Kaufman that showed an undiminished global rate of coal burning and greenhouse gas emissions, especially Methane and Nitrous oxide.

Weaknesses of the master plan

As an experienced coastal scientist with 18 years’ worth of direct involvement in our 25 year-old coastal program and a decade spent unofficially trying to influence its direction I’d like to suggest the prospect that even a dramatically underfunded coastal program could achieve major benefits — with more technical adult supervision. It’s the latter topic that particularly needs discussion. On November 15 The New Yorker published an article by Elizabeth Kolbert in which she describes the Trump administration’s fervor to increase American fossil fuel production in coming decades, in total contravention to the Paris Accord. This despite the prediction that global greenhouse gas emissions will increase significantly in 2018.

*I have previously criticized the efforts of this coalition as the Silence of the Ecolambs.


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  1. Anonymous says:

    Merry Christmas Admin

  2. Editor’s note:
    In my list of state and local policy decisions that have seriously damaged America’s Delta I neglected to mention the state-sanctioned process of dredging both clam shells in Lake Pontchartrain and oyster reef shells comprising the Point au Fer reef that once extended for miles offshore of the Atchafalaya River mouth.

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