Louisiana coastal restoration needs more than disasters to fund work

August 9, 2022 11:56 am
Louisiana Highway 1 bridge in Leeville

The Louisiana Highway 1 Bridge, rises above marshland and coastal waters on Aug. 25, 2019, in Leeville. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

It’s been a little over a decade since we woke up to 134 million gallons of oil sheen drifting across the Gulf of Mexico. The Deepwater Horizon disaster was deadly, and it caused devastation along Louisiana’s coast, with long-term consequences. The federal government has since invested more than $16 billion to restore Gulf Coast ecosystems.

The Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States (or RESTORE) Act uses 80% of penalties leveraged by the Clean Water Act against the companies culpable for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It’s the RESTORE Act that allocates those funds.

Dozens of RESTORE Act projects in Louisiana are in various stages, but the problem of a dwindling coastline is far from solved.

A football field-sized chunk of land disappears from the Louisiana coast every 100 minutes. These coastal wetlands do more than simply house and lend nutrients to the animals that make Louisiana a sportsman’s paradise destination for visitors from around the world.

Without rich marshlands, the state’s seafood industry will collapse. Our coastal wetlands are also irreplaceable habitat for bald eagles and countless species of migratory birds. Plus, every minute that passes without action exposes Louisianians, communities and industry to unrelenting storm surge brought by hurricanes.

Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan maps out how to use RESTORE Act funding to target land loss through marsh and barrier island creation and sediment diversions. Coastal projects like the West Grand Terre Beach Nourishment and Stabilization, Golden Triangle Marsh Creation, Biloxi Marsh Living Shoreline and Mississippi River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp all aim to reverse land loss by restoring tens of thousands of acres of natural marshland and coastal vegetation.

The Golden Triangle Marsh creation project will reinvigorate the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife area, which will better protect the New Orleans area from hurricanes. The River Parishes and Baton Rouge area will see the benefits of a healthy Manchac Landbridge to prevent Lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas from merging and sending storm surge into communities.

These projects and the dozens of others cannot protect people, wildlife, industry and property without continued support. The RESTORE Act is a great start, but it is just that – a start.

Disaster funding – including penalties from Deepwater Horizon and other funding linked to extreme weather events – is fueling critical coastal protection and restoration. Louisiana is investing this money wisely. But we can’t depend upon disaster funding to protect us. It’s just not enough.

Louisianians must lift their voices to let state, local and federal leaders know our future depends on how much of our coast is saved. We have the tools to do it, but we must find a way to fund the preservation of our state in the decades to come.

Kim Reyher is executive director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana


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