On Friday, June 3rd, members of the GRN staff attended a half-day workshop within the State of the Gulf Conference entitled Restoration on the Half-Shelf: Presentations in Non-Technical Language.
Organized by the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL), The Water Institute of the Gulf, and the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana (CPRA), the new program offered a general history of Louisiana’s coastal restoration efforts along with a discussion of current progress and future plans. Broken up into two panels, the first session highlighted the dangers and risks posed by the current land loss crisis while the second session focused on possible community and administrative action.
To begin the panel discussion “Louisiana’s Coastal Land Loss Crisis,” David Muth, the Director of the Gulf Restoration Program in Louisiana for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), highlighted the various ways in which the construction of the levee system along the Mississippi River led to a rapid increase in coastal land loss. More specifically, he explained that the construction of levees prevented the natural sediment deposition into the numerous deltas of Louisiana that traditionally led to land formation. Jeff Hebert, the Director of New Orleans Redevelopment Authority (NORA), emphasized the urgency of coastal land loss by explaining that as the coast vanishes, the environment, culture, community and commerce are all at risk. Additionally, he recognized that the individuals who are most vulnerable to changes in livelihood are lower income people in coastal cities. The first panel concluded with a presentation from Bren Haase, a wetland ecologist for the Louisiana State Government, who spent the majority of his time describing the various attributes of the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan, a fifty-year plan aimed at adapting and preparing for the inevitable changes within the coastal region.
The discussion of adaptation continued into the second session entitled “Bold Action in the Face of Adversity” with a presentation by Denise Reed, the chief scientist of the Water Institute of the Gulf. Over the course of her presentation, she highlighted the importance of using past studies of the Gulf region to inform future policy and restoration efforts. In a more financially oriented presentation, Kimberley Reyher, the Executive Director of CRCL, noted the importance of using new sources of money, such as Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) funds, to finance various restoration efforts as they are deemed effective and worthwhile. To conclude the panel presentation, CPRA Director, Michael Ellis, summarized more specific aspects of the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan, including 17 projects such as barrier island creation or marsh protection and 29 construction projects.
The mini-conference ended with an inspirational speech by Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu that highlighted the importance of immediate action to restore the Gulf. After walking the audience through the dualistic nature of oil and gas industry, which provides jobs to the state while simultaneously helping destroy the coast, he concluded, “So let’s put our differences aside, find common ground, and move us forward. Our people, our land, our way of life are far too important. The time to act is now.”
Although not one of the session presenters, Mayor Landrieu’s speech encapsulated the main message of the program: our traditional way of life is seriously threatened and we, as a community, must do everything we can to mitigate the impact of the coastal crisis.
Eliza Harrison is a Robertson Scholar working with GRN this summer.