Louisiana coastal plan may be more a pipe dream than reality - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Louisiana coastal plan may be more a pipe dream than reality

Dr. John Lopez of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation walks through "Mardi Gras Pass" on the east bank of Plaquemines Parish Dr. John Lopez of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation walks through "Mardi Gras Pass" on the east bank of Plaquemines Parish

On the east bank of Plaquemines Parish, where no river levee exists, the Mississippi River has cut a new channel into the marsh.

"This is kind of like a Huckleberry Finn moment to be here on the river and see something like this," said Dr. John Lopez, executive director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.

The river's new cut has joined with an existing canal to form what Lopez has dubbed, "Mardi Gras Pass."

"It's also possibly something that's going to save the taxpayers money," said Lopez, pointing out the state plans a nearly $200 million sediment diversion nearby.

Lopez argues, with some adjustments to this partially manmade channel, the Mississippi might just give Louisiana a diversion at a substantially reduced price.

Louisiana could certainly use the money.

"The cavalry isn't coming again," said Mark Davis, Director of the Tulane University Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy.

A Tulane review has found that the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan dramatically underestimates the price tag, failing to figure in such factors as the cost of inflation or maintaining metro New Orleans' new hurricane risk reduction system.

The master plan envisions a series of projects to build barrier islands, ridges, marsh and manmade structures over a 50-year period.

Davis believes the actual cost runs closer to $100 million.

"Time is perhaps our biggest enemy," said Davis, "and, I think, that is perhaps the thing we've done the poorest job coming to terms with."

Davis argues, at best, the state is one-third of the way to the goal with roughly $35 billion in the pipeline.

Over the next several years, Louisiana will receive a larger share of federal offshore oil royalties on top of fines from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

In the wake of the BP disaster, there was widespread speculation of $20 billion raining down on Gulf states, mostly Louisiana.

The final figure may not approach that mark, and other Gulf Coast states have taken a bite out the money BP has put for early restoration projects.

"There's no doubt that Louisiana had a disproportionate share of the impacts," said Jerome Zeringue, Chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

"The unfortunate reality is that we won't get the dollars that we are due based upon those impacts," Zeringue said.

He points out that over the last eight years, Louisiana has forked over close to $1 billion for coastal protection.

Although a significant portion of that cost covered the state's share of the hurricane risk-reduction system, Zeringue said "Louisiana has put skin into the game."

Zeringue points out the state is not funding the entire $50 billion at one time, but incrementally building projects over the course of half a century.

"The plan is based on a realistic expectation on either the current funding sources that we have or the funding sources we anticipate utilizing," Zeringue said.

Tulane paints a darker picture, complicated by the absence of any long term funding over time.

In the end, Davis argues the coast Louisiana ends up with may be the one its willing to pay for.

"It's going to be primarily what Louisianans are willing to pay."

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