“This is a scary situation, and I have a hard time getting to sleep at night when I think of it,” Johnny Bradberry said. Bradberry is the governor’s executive assistant for coastal activities and the chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Board.
Roughly 100 people attended the meeting at a Marriott hotel in Covington, across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“If I do nothing to prevent coastal erosion, in 50 years I am going to lose 42 percent of my land,” Bradberry said. “This is not a pretty picture. It is not a pleasant topic to talk about, but it is real.”
The Coastal Master Plan is a bipartisan approach to saving the Louisiana coast. It was created by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority of Louisiana and is published in a 184-page document, “Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast,” which took effect in June, after 10 years in the works.
Bradberry said the plan is neither a Republican nor a Democratic product.
“It is a survival thing as far as I am concerned,” Bradberry said. “We have to work hard to keep politics out of it. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s based in science.”
In the process of creating the 2017 Master Plan, 209 project proposals were submitted, the total costs of which would be $150 billion to $170 billion.
The restoration council waded through the proposals and trimmed the plan down to 124 projects, which are expected to cost an estimated $50 billion over the next 50 years.
Bradberry said each of the proposed plans was worthwhile, but it would have been too expensive to do all of them.
He said coastal restoration is meant to make the state’s remaining natural resources stretch farther.
“Our coast has changed, and our coast is changing,” he said. “The question is, what are we going to do with the time, resources and options we have left? Because the timeline is disturbing. The question is, how much of what we have left can we keep?
“We will never get to where the marsh was in 2010. There are some situations out there that are not reduce-able. But we can slow land loss down, and we can sustain ourselves for a long time.”
Louisiana is losing a football field of land every 100 minutes, Bradberry said — 18 acres a day. A few years ago it lost a football field every 60 minutes.
“Should we all get up and clap for that?” Bradberry asked. “I don’t think so.”
Mark Davis, director of the Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy and director of the Tulane University ByWater Institute joined Bradberry in Tuesday’s discussion.
Davis said land loss has slowed down partly because “we’ve lost the easiest land to lose,” and partly because Louisianans have changed the way they do things.
“If you have not read the master plan,” Davis said, “I encourage you to do that. I don’t care what your vocation is, it is important to you.”
Davis said the coastal restoration program is citizen-led and its strength is that there is a strong civic aspect to it.
“The coastal master plan isn’t comprehensive with a capital C,” Davis said. “It is going to require local citizens to govern, such as what to do with subsistence and sinking.
“We built the bowl, we sank the cities and now we’re suffering the consequences. What are we going to do?” Davis asked.
Nor does the master plan cover drinking water, Davis said, though “drinking water supplies are being compromised.”
“As the coast retreats, the water supply moves north.”
Davis said Plaquemines Parish already brings in fresh water from Jefferson Parish during dry days and Bayou Lafourche has already dealt with salinity in its water in an industrial setting.
“Citizens need to prepare for salt water,” Davis said.
“Flooding is the risk that we live with,” he said, though the ways Orleans and Jefferson parishes manage flooding risk from the river versus the lake or the sky is vastly different. We plan for a 1-in-100-year event for the river but only for a once-a-year event for rain, for instance.
“What happened in Houston [during Hurricane Harvey] was tragic, but it looked a lot like what happened in Baton Rouge a year ago,” Davis said.
“We are realizing a great deal of our risk comes from the sky, but that risk is not covered by the master plan.”
He emphasized that “you cannot build that which you do not plan to finance” and that it is vital to find the financing for restoration projects now, before it is too late.
But that is no easy task, Davis said, as the state simply does not have the money. He said that even assistance from the federal government would require the state to have a certain percentage up front.
“But if we don’t plan for our communities, someone else will, and you won’t like it: Insurance companies are going to plan; bond companies are going to plan; businesses are going to plan,” Davis said.
He said New Orleans has a building code in place only because insurance companies demanded it and said otherwise they would not come back after Hurricane Katrina.
The coastal plan is a combination of science and civic participation, Davis said.
“What are we willing to give, and what are willing to learn from each other?”
The meeting was hosted by Bureau of Governmental Research, an 85-year-old private, nonprofit, independent research organization whose website says is dedicated to informed public policy making and the effective use of public resources for the improvement of government in the New Orleans metropolitan area.
It was open and free to the public.
(Photo shows flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.)