• The Mississippi: A Visual Biography by Quinta Scott

    "Great book and great blog - thanks for the first book I have seen that addresses the contemporary river, headwaters to gulf." Dan McGuiness, Audubon, St. Paul, Minnesota

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Restoring the Louisiana Coast, yet more plans

Less than a month ago I wrote about restoring the Louisiana Coast after President Obama’s speech promising to restore the Louisiana Coast. I listed the unfulfilled programs generated in the last twenty years to restore Louisiana’s Coast.

Today’s New Orleans Times-Picayune has an article a plan to update the state’s master plan for restoring Louisiana’s Coast. It will be eighteen months before the update reaches finalization and the plan will concentrate on water and sediment diversions from the Mississippi and the Atchafalaya to build land in the Barataria and Terrebonne Basins and in Breton Sound. There is the possibly that water could be diverted down MRGO, which was closed a year ago, to build wetlands that navigation channel destroyed after the first shovel of dirt was dredged from the channel in 1958 .

Dredge pumped behind containment wall of the Bayou Rigolettes restoration project and CWPPRA projects funded by the 1990 Breaux Act

One of the people commenting on the article notes that freshwater diversions are fine, but pumping sediment to places where new land is desperately needed is faster and more effective.

The Katrina Memorial at MRGO and Bayou La Loutre

Let’s see: Katrina devastated the Barataria Basin and Breton Sound and flooded New Orleans in August 2005 . Rita followed a month later and took on the rest of the coast, the Terrebonne Basin and the Cheniere Plain to the west, wiping out Holly Beach and closing the Sabine NWR for years. The state published its Master Plan in May 2007, two years later. Then there is the Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration Plan published in 2004, which Congress authorized in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act, but never funded.

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Cameron Parish, Louisiana was closed for four years after Rita washed through the refuge

Two months ago, when Gov. Bobby Jindal’s ersatz barrier islands looked like a good idea, I wrote about the bureaucratic hoops, barriers really, to restoring Louisiana’s coast.

From The Mississippi: A Visual Biography:

“In March 2007 the New Orleans Times-Picayune created a flow chart of the approval process for coastal restoration projects, actually for any large restoration project in any state. The chart illustrated the bureaucratic roadblocks to ecosystem restoration.

“A state, a county, or, in Louisiana, a parish identifies a project and asks its Congressional representation to initiate a Corps of Engineer feasibility study. Congress authorizes the study through a Water Resources Development Act or a separate bill, which must be passed by both houses and signed by the president. The money for the study can come from a Corps’ district office budget. Failing that it must come from the annual Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, which must be passed by both houses and signed by the president. That can take a year or two.

“Then the Corps begins three studies: Is it worth doing–the Reconnaissance Study? Is it possible–the Feasibility Study? What’s its impact on the environment–the Environmental Impact Study? Sometimes the feasibility study and the environmental impact study are rolled together. After all, if the project is going to devastate the environment, it’s not feasible. The studies go to the Chief of Engineers, who recommends further action. If the Chief does not recommend the action, it goes to one of three agencies–the Secretary of the Army, the White House Office of Management and Budget, or the Council on Environmental Quality–which can order additional study or trash it. That can take two or three years.

“If the Chief does recommend the project, it goes to Congress for authorization in the Water Resources Development Act, which must be passed by both houses and signed by the president. That can take two or more years, or seven in the case of the 2007 WRDA.

“Then the Corps begins engineering and design. That can take a year or two.

“Then money for construction is doled out year by year in bills, which must be passed by both houses and approved by the president. That can take a year or two.

“Then, construction begins. That can take years.

It’s no wonder the Louisiana coastal marshes disintegrate and the Upper Mississippi deteriorates as the proposals to save them wend their way through the bureaucratic process.”

Years ago, when I was doing research for The Mississippi: A Visual Biography, I spent a day with Mike Davis, a biologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Mike pointed to a book case in the corner of a conference room that was loaded down with studies, written by the Army Corps of Engineers, but never acted upon. This seems to be the case with restoration plans for Louisiana.

By the way: Jindal bullied Obama and  the Corps of Engineers into letting him build his sand berms, thus bypassing the above process. I followed up with a discussion about where the sand could come from and how hard it is to come by. Len Bahr at LaCoastPost has a posting that includes photographs of what is happening to the sand berms built out front of the Chandeleur Islands: they are eroding away.

Copyright, Quinta Scott, 2010, Word and Photographs, All Rights Reserved


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