Lt. Gov. Nungesser raises objections to Louisiana’s coastal restoration project — again

Coastal restoration experts say the lieutenant governor is spreading misinformation

By: - August 3, 2021 8:13 am

In this file photo from April 4, 2020, Louisiana Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser speaks to the media as they tour the field hospital setup for coronavirus (COVID-19) patients at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser has again raised objections to a $1.4 billion coastal restoration project that Louisiana’s state government has said for years is key to combating the state’s land loss.

“I just can’t understand why more people are not outraged,” Nungesser, a Republican, said at the Baton Rouge Press Club Monday. 

Nungesser has been on a tour of South Louisiana — campaigning against the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project that has the backing of state officials, federal authorities and environmental groups. His appearance Monday was no different.

Nungesser said the sediment diversion proposal posed a threat to fish, shrimp and other water life — and could potentially destroy the local Louisiana seafood industry. As lieutenant governor, Nungesser oversees the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board. He works closely with the state’s fisherman and shrimpers, who have been wary of the project for several years. 

But the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Chairman Chip Kline — who oversees the implementation of Louisiana’s 50-year coastal master plan — characterized Nungesser’s comments as “spreading misinformation.”

We firmly believe in utilizing science, not politics, to make informed decisions on how best to save coastal Louisiana.

– Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Chairman Chip Kline

,” Kline wrote in an email Monday. “The concept of reintroducing the river and sediment supply to restore the natural land building processes has transcended four gubernatorial administrations and has been unanimously approved by our state legislators.”

The Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project will move sediment from the Mississippi River to coastal marshes — hopefully imitating the process that created Louisiana’s coastal land in the first place. The project will go in Plaquemines Parish, where Nungesser lives and served as head of the parish government before moving into statewide office.

Nungesser emphasizes that the project could end up killing dolphins. There’s evidence that the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway in 2019 — which allowed fresh water to flow into Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi Sound — devastated the dolphin population that year.

He believes the sediment diversion project would have a similar impact on dolphins and other water wildlife. Nungesser is also upset that a state employee who tried to draw attention to the death of the dolphins ended up losing her job. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has said the employee’s reporting on dolphins was not related to her dismissal.

“Remember the dolphin is the canary in the coal mine,” Nungesser said.

Nungesser said that instead of the sediment diversion project, the state should be looking to build more berns — as he had proposed years ago in Plaquemines Parish.

Kline said berns won’t be enough to save the Barataria Basin.

The project will certainly bring changes to the estuary in Barataria Basin as it exists today; but, the estuary is on the verge of collapse,” he wrote in his email. “No amount of dredging projects, berms, or barrier islands will re-establish a functioning estuary nor will it ensure there is one in the future.”

There is no doubt that the sediment project will affect dolphins, fish, shrimp — and the overall seafood industry, Kline said. The state is working hard on mitigation measures to help the fishing industry and others adjust to the expected changes.

Correction: Chip Kline’s name was initially spelled incorrectly in this story. We regret the error. 

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press. Julie covered state government and politics for | The Times-Picayune for six years. She’s also covered government and politics in Missouri, Virginia and Washington D.C. Julie is a proud D.C. native and Washington Capitals hockey fan. She and her partner, Jed, live in Baton Rouge. She has two stepchildren, Quinn and Steven.