Engaging Communities in Coastal Restoration

Last Our Lady of the Holy Cross College hosted Our Wetlands Our Future: A Forum on Coastal Restoration. The content for this forum focused on the physical and biological aspects of coastal restoration as well as the tools that we have available in planning and making informed decisions with how best to restore Louisiana’s coast. Unlike most forums of this kind, however, this one included a panel focused on the sociological elements in coastal restoration planning.Shirley Laska from UNO-CHART (Center for Hazards Assessment, Response and Technology) presented on some research that is being conducted using the residential knowledge in the Grand Bayou community to prioritize impaired areas in need of restoration. This research was able to show that there is agreement between the scientific data and the residents about which areas of their communities are being impacted. What this research adds to the already established scientific data is the human element of just what’s a stake in these threatened communities. Laska stressed how important community knowledge is to the process of restoration planning. Acquiring and utilizing this knowledge helps to build trust in these impacted communities. Another topic that was discussed at this forum was the importance of creating Citizen’s Advisory Councils. Kris Peterson, also from UNO, spoke extensively about the Prince William Sound Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council which was created following the Exxon Valdez disaster. The RCAC provides a coordinated approach for response and safety of the oil and gas industry in Alaska. These types of councils are successful because they too build trust within threatened communities, they value local knowledge, and they give citizens a meaningful way to participate in the processes that will most directly impact their lives. It is important that we create a structure like this to protect the Gulf from future damages.The crisis playing in out in coastal Louisiana will demand tough choices be made about how and where we do restoration. I am encouraged to see that need to engage communities is become a legitimate topic of this conversation. GRN and the other members of the Gulf Future Coalition have relentlessly been advocating for public participation and we will continue to express the value in bringing the public to the table when these tough and critical decisions are being made. Michelle Erenberg is the Special Projects Coordinator and works with the Gulf Future Coalition. To find out more about the Gulf Future Action Plan click here.