At the Coastal Wetland Communities Adaptation Leadership Forum hosted by the America's WETLAND Foundation (AWF) convened today at Nicholls State University a recurring theme emerged - Louisiana's coastal communities will survive the rising tide as local governments have taken extraordinary measures and partnered with the state and private industry to save the state's disappearing coastline.
Terrebonne Parish President Gordon "Gordy" Dove and Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District Executive Director Reggie Dupre, Jr. told the 75 participating coastal leaders how almost $1 billion in locally led restoration projects were made possible because the people of Terrebonne and Lafourche Parish voted to tax themselves and partner with the state, finding innovative solutions to save their land.
"I honestly believe with another Ike, or another Rita, we would have a 90% reduction in homes going under water, but we could become a victim of our own success," Dupre explained. "We want the feds to become a partner in these local projects because we have invested heavily in our future."
Dr. Robert Twilley, executive director of Louisiana Sea Grant, reminded participants about a report done ten years ago that is most relevant today. "This is not about bouncing back but about bouncing forward. It's about integrating aggressive risk reduction methods, not into just levees, but also within the community's programs. Twilley, noted that ecosystem restoration was a term used during early consideration of local levees and protective measures and now we talk in terms of integrated ecosystem design. "Now every community will want a 'Morganza-to-the-Gulf ' when the next big storm hits," concluded Twilley.
Forum participants also discussed the future of the national flood insurance program, slated to end in late 2018, pointing out that it has not only helped the coastal region, but it helps the government by providing some protection on the front end. "It is essential to building cooperation with other U.S. coastal communities to ensure that insurance is available and affordable," said Louisiana State Representative, Jerome Zeringue.
Several participants felt Louisiana should share information with other vulnerable communities around the country, pointing out this has been one of the hallmarks of the America's WETLAND Foundation's work that should continue.
Terrebonne Parish native and AWF board member Berwick Duval said, "We have a story to tell, but it's not getting through to a number of people in the most vulnerable areas of the country. It's a hard sell. Until communities are hit, they don't get it."
Chip Kline, Chair of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) pointed out the federal government has been slow to move some hurricane protection projects forward. The Morganza-to-the-Gulf project was authorized in 1992 to provide hurricane protection for Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes. "But not a single dime has been spent by the federal government on this project," Kline noted, "and that's not acceptable."
Kline said the time is right for private companies to play a role in coastal restoration, not only in partnership with the state, and commended the America's WETLAND Foundation for proposing an inventory of privately funded restoration initiatives designed consistent with the state's coastal master plan.
Louisiana Speaker Pro-Tempore, Rep. Walt Leger III of New Orleans noted, "The state cannot fully fund our master plan and it has never been more important than to have private companies involved in our restoration. Industry has invested billions of dollars in doing business on our coast and it makes good sense to protect the coast and those natural and economic assets."
Rachel Archer, General Manager of BHP, Gulf of Mexico, who sponsored the Leadership Forum, described her company's commitment to coastal Louisiana and its funding of two projects in South Terrebonne to support the progress in coastal protection made by the parish.
"For our company to have a future here, we want to be part of the stewardship of this region. We want to leave things in better condition than when we found it. BHP is the beneficiary of these resources and we take that seriously," continued Archer.
Elliott Bouillion, President, and CEO of RES, a private ecological restoration company with deep roots in Louisiana, talked about his company's efforts to encourage the private sector to play a meaningful role in restoring Louisiana's wetlands.
Bouillion also encouraged a national discussion on ecological restoration, especially since Louisiana has such an advanced coastal master plan "The private sector really understands long-term operational costs that go into good stewardship," Bouillion said. "What's good about embracing private industry is that we understand how to focus on core competencies and do it in a cost-effective way. Too often we try to get government to expand and take on too many things. We can do something not only for Louisiana but for the entire United States," Bouillion said.
Val Marmillion, AWF Managing Director, pointed out that 35,000 cypress trees are being introduced into the Terrebonne Parish wetlands as a result of the two new AWF restoration projects and shared how common-sense measures using native plants and water strategies can be a part of responsible restoration efforts.
Tim Allen, General Manager of Apache, an oil and gas exploration company working throughout the world and the second largest landowners in Louisiana, said the institutional knowledge of long-time landowners and managers in South Louisiana also has great value going forward. "AWF's new private project inventory program of creating The Louisiana Coastal Exchange (LCX) is a way to show what has been done, where projects are, and to build on them further. It has the potential for projects to go into the ground right away," said Allen.
Laurie Bowie, Executive Director of the Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA) agreed that LCX projects funded by the private sector would be a great complement to the projects funded by the BP Oil Spill funds. "But we also need the Exchange as a wish list or menu for private investment opportunities - projects that may not be in the master plan but could help with coastal restoration."
"This great ecosystem will be changing, and we will never have a silver bullet to fix it all, but discussions like these continue to move the ball forward. We need to keep selling how important this issue is until it becomes part of the national psyche," concluded Representative Zeringue
By American’s WETLAND Foundation