Louisiana governor declares state of emergency to speed coastal restoration projects

Governor John Bel Edwards issued a state of emergency for coastal areas of Louisiana on Tuesday, citing “catastrophic” soil erosion which threatens the safety of over half the state’s residents.

The executive action, announced Wednesday at a Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority board meeting, is meant to accelerate construction projects along the coast that will create and rebuild existing barrier islands and build levees and flood gates to protect against storm surge.

Southern Louisiana’s “Coastal Master Plan” is a series of projects totaling $50 billion over a 50-year period which covers 20 parishes. By declaring an “emergency” on the Gulf Coast, the Pelican State can begin rebuilding environmental infrastructure before federal permits are issued.

State funding of the plan relies partly on settlement money from the 2010 BP oil spill, which totaled $20 billion paid to five Gulf Coast states and local governments.

According to the governor’s office, nearly 2,000 square miles worth of land has disappeared in Louisiana since 1932.  2,250 more square miles is projected to erode over the next half a century.

“Decades of saltwater intrusion, subsidence and rising sea levels have made the Louisiana coast the nation’s most rapidly deteriorating shoreline,” said Travis Lux of New Orleans Public Radio. “It loses the equivalent of one football field of land every hour.”

Gov. Edwards’ proclamation also requested the president of the United States declare Louisiana’s coastal erosion a national emergency and “provide appropriate federal attention and cooperation”, and for Congress to speed the federal permitting process.

In all, over 120 individual state projects are planned for Louisiana’s coast to protect against flooding, including areas of New Orleans which are below sea level.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — the federal agency charged with issuing environmental building permits — the earliest Louisiana’s 50-year plan could be green-lighted is 2022. With the new declaration however, state officials say construction could begin in three years’ time.


[NPR] [The Times-Picayune] [AP via WTOP] [Photo courtesy Ted Jackson/NOLA.com]