Louisiana coastal restoration spending plan proposed


By Mark Schleifstein, The Times-Picayune

Photo credit: Michael DeMocker, The Times-Picayune Dredging has created a huge sand berm that has helped restore the Chandeleur Islands, photographed in October 2010.

Louisiana would spend $923 million on hurricane protection and coastal restoration projects during fiscal year 2013, including $161 million to pay part of the state’s share of the upgraded New Orleans area hurricane levee system, and $23 million toward the Morganza to the Gulf levee protecting Houma, according to a draft plan presented to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority on Wednesday.

The annual spending plan is highly dependent on two sources of money: $367 million already set aside by the Legislature for levee and restoration projects from 2008 and 2009 state budget surpluses, and a less-sure $267 million the state expects to receive from “early restoration” payments by BP for damage from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill under the federal Natural Resource Damage Assessment process.

The plan document points out that the BP money is still speculative; BP has so far committed to an early restoration payment of $1 billion, of which Louisiana is guaranteed only $100 million.

But Drue Banta, an attorney leading the state’s damage assessment team, said the state expects to receive between $400 million and $600 million of the early money. She said the state expects the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the federal Interior Department to spend the lion’s share of similar $100 million payments promised to each as federal trustees, and a large share of another $300 million that NOAA and Interior will get for state-proposed projects.

The state would get the larger share of the money because the spill caused more damage to natural resources in Louisiana, she said.

Indeed, the plan includes $270 million in BP money as part of its estimated fiscal year 2014 revenues.

The BP money would pay for 13 restoration projects that the state already has recommended for approval to a committee made up of the state and federal trustees and BP. Two of those projects already are awaiting approval by the committee in February, pending public hearings next week.

The annual plan proposes to finance 50 projects that will begin or continue construction in 2013, including 16 protection projects, 30 restoration projects and four infrastructure projects. Another nine projects would move into an initial planning phase, with two protection and 24 restoration projects beginning a comprehensive design phase.

The budget also includes $14.7 million to operate and maintain 89 projects already completed and to monitor the effectiveness 51 of the completed restoration projects.

The plan is a compendium of all restoration and levee projects financed by federal and state agencies, and includes the state’s share of money to be spent toward those projects:

  • Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act, $22.6 million for the state’s 15 percent share of 44 restoration projects, including extensions of the Bayou Dupont, Grand Liard and Lake Hermitage marsh creation projects on the West Bank of Plaquemines Parish. BP money will add acreage to the Lake Hermitage project.
  • Water Resources Development Act projects, $16 million for a variety of projects authorized under this law, including half the planning costs and 35 percent of the design costs for a diversion of sediment and freshwater at Myrtle Grove in Plaquemines, the rebuilding of barrier islands and barrier shorelines in the Terrebonne Basin, and the Mississippi River Hydrodynamic and Delta Management Study, aimed at determining how best to use the sediment and water of the river, and to determine the future of lower river’s delta area.
  • Coastal Impact Assistance Program, $60.1 million from a four-year state share of federal offshore oil revenue that will pay for design and or construction of 16 projects, including the protection of the Lake Borgne shoreline of the eastern New Orleans Land Bridge and construction of a pipeline to transport sediment mined from the Mississippi River to build barrier islands and wetlands in Barataria Bay.
  • State-only projects, financed from a share of the $790 million in state budget surpluses from 2007 to 2009, including paying part of the state’s share of the cost of the Larose to Golden Meadow and Morganza to the Gulf levee projects, and a feasibility study for hurricane levees in St. Tammany Parish.
  • Community Development Block Grant money, $7.6 million given the state from this federal Department of Housing and Urban Development program after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike for a variety of recovery projects, including a flood control plan for south Slidell.
  • Berm to Barrier Projects, $64 million left from money BP gave the state to build oil-catching berms will pay to use the sediment for rebuilding adjacent barrier islands and back wetlands.

Public comments on the annual plan will be collected during three public hearings on the state’s five-year Master Plan update next week. Each begins with an open house at 1 p.m., followed by a public hearing from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.:

  • Monday: New Orleans, at the Lindy Boggs Conference Center Auditorium on the University of New Orleans campus.
  • Tuesday: Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center
  • Wednesday: Lake Charles Civic Center.

Copies of the annual plan, and information on how to comment are available on the web at coastal.louisiana.gov. The comment period ends on Feb. 25, with the authority approval of a final version scheduled for March 21. It will be submitted to the Legislature for approval on March 26.