Master plan for coastal restoration gives hope

01-22-2012 // Bob Marshall - The Times-Picayune

This excerpt is from The Times-Picayune

We need to discuss two words today: Hope and courage. In almost 40 years of covering the state's coastal crisis, "hope" is a word I've seldom been able to write. There were decades when the state refused to even acknowledge we had problem. There were political leaders who refused to address the forces responsible. And there was a population that refused to get involved. So it was little wonder during that time the Gulf of Mexico moved within eye-shot of our major cities, or that the groundwork was laid for a disaster named Katrina.

But last week, finally, we got hope. It's called "Louisiana's Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast" -- aka the 2012 Master Plan. It's a $50 billion blueprint for keeping our starving, sinking deltas livable in 50 years.

The plan is available on the Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration website. It's required reading if you work or play here. You'll find hope in its 165 pages for the following reasons: It draws a long needed "line in the marsh," proposing what we will try to save, try to rebuild and what we must let go.

The importance of that one accomplishment cannot be overstated. As author and levee authority member John Barry has pointed out, the biggest obstacle to solving our problems was never engineering, but politics. Not necessarily the Washington kind, but the local politics of competing interest groups.


The process was open to the public, and remains so. Anyone who wants to understand how choices were made, the criteria used and the reasoning offered when subjective decisions were required, can find them in the indexes to the plan.

That planning tool was also used in deciding where to site projects, and what to let go.

For example, there is nothing planned for trying to save the great Bird's Foot delta south of Venice, a landscape battered by the oil industry, shipping and subsidence -- but still an ecological treasure, and critically important to migratory birds.

That decision was a dagger to my heart; the delta is one of my favorite places on the planet. But it makes sense.

"The Bird's Foot is subsiding at the rate of 2 meters per century, so there was no return on your investment there -- even if it could be done," said David Muth, Louisiana director of the National Wildlife Federation's Louisiana Coastal Campaign. "And the concept is to replace that habitat further up the stem of the river with the sediment diversions in the plan.

"Using their planning tool, (CPRA) made the choice to get the biggest bang for their bucks."

I couldn't argue with that logic.

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