Obama administration intensifies focus on Gulf Coast
Amid a whirlwind October 16th presidential visit to New Orleans, new statements from White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley acknowledged the need for federal engagement on wetlands restoration, as well as calling attention to some of the challenges.
Speaking from the community-constructed Bayou Bienvenue platform overlooking the degraded central wetlands cypress forest that used to protect both the Lower Ninth Ward from hurricane storm surge, as well as provide a vast recreational resource to the community, Sutley specified a four point program: 1) recognize the urgency of coastal restoration, 2) break down silos between agencies to achieve a coordinated multi-agency effort, 3) base decisions on sound science, and 4) focus on priority projects. Sutley had earlier made the same points in St. Bernard Parish at a listening session with a broad range of local officials, environmentalists, and regional representatives of federal agencies.
However, when questioned by New Orleans and national media on whether the administration was planning to call for more restoration funding, Sutley identified the administration’s ongoing scoping process, but was not able to address program details yet. Asked about timing, she announced that more details would be released “in months, not years.”
Several other recent announcements demonstrate the White House's increased focus on restoration and recovery of the Gulf Coast.
- President Obama signed an executive order to extend the responsibilities of the Gulf Coast Coordinator’s Office, which is led by Janet Woodka.
- The President created a multi-agency workgroup headed by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan to learn lessons from Gulf Coast recovery that will improve future disaster recovery efforts.
These announcements followed the creation of a federal task force to address current recovery and restoration efforts in coastal Louisiana and to increase economic and environmental resiliency in the region. The task force will be convening for discussion and tours of the wetlands and communities in the next two months.
October is Atchafalaya Month
A series of events collectively designated as “Experience Atchafalaya Days” are happening across the Atchafalaya Basin this month to help people learn about education, recreation and adventure opportunities in the great swamp.
“Atchafalaya Month” events began Oct. 1 at the Capitol Park Welcome Center in Baton Rouge. Additional events throughout the month include weekly slideshows, history-focused seminars, bird-watching classes and hikes, boat-building exhibits and crafts. A full list of the events is available here.
"Explore Atchafalaya Days" began in 2002 and was coordinated by the Sierra Club, Atchafalaya Basin Program, and Atchafalaya Trace Commission. Friends of the Atchafalaya took on the task this year and partnered with the Atchafalaya Trace Commission to ask Governor Jindal to again designate October as Atchafalaya Month.
Unusual suspects line up to call for Obama wetlands initiative
Last Wednesday, on the eve of President Obama's visit to New Orleans, Louisiana elected officials, local, state and national group leaders sent the president a letter advising him that "a robust and effective federal effort...is necessary" to ensure "coastal Louisiana's survival."
The letter signers included Governor Bobby Jindal, U.S. Senators Mary Landrieu and David Vitter, U.S. Reps. Steve Scalise, Joseph Cao, Charlie Melancon, and Charles Boustany, Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp, National Audubon Society President John Flicker and National Wildlife Federation President Larry Schweiger, among others.
The letter appeared in full-page ads purchased by Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society and National Wildlife Federation in the Thursday editions of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, New Orleans Tribune and Politico.
The leaders noted that during his campaign and his 2009 Katrina anniversary address, President Obama spoke of "the need to strengthen the wetlands and barrier islands that are the Gulf Coast's first line of defense," and that the issue is pressing because Louisiana has lost more than 2,300 square miles of coastal wetlands since the 1930s, an area larger than the state of Delaware.
The leaders commended the president's "recent steps in support of New Orleans and coastal Louisiana," including visiting the Gulf Coast, extending operation of the Gulf Coast Recovery Coordinator's Office, and establishing the Gulf Coast Interagency Working Group as "concrete steps forward to community, economic, and environmental recovery and resiliency."
"Restoring the Mississippi River delta wetlands will save the world's seventh largest river delta, be the largest ecosystem restoration program in history, protect world-renowned cultures and communities, and bolster the American economy," the leaders stated. "Coastal restoration is an essential component of short and long term risk reduction in this region, and must complement and be complemented by other lines of defense like existing and future federal investments in levees, evacuation planning, and storm-sensitive community redevelopment."
The leaders cited five principles to "both ensure effectiveness and concrete progress on restoration before the end of your first term in 2012." They are:
- Complete the near-term restoration program authorized by Congress in 2007
- Apply multi-agency resources and coordination
- Streamline bureaucracy and reconcile inconsistent policies
- Develop multi-year programmatic funding and budgeting, starting with Fiscal Year 2011
- Complete the authorized comprehensive planning, design, and management effort
"These principles provide President Obama with a roadmap from experts on the issue about how to rebuild coastal Louisiana effectively and quickly," said Paul Harrison, senior director of rivers and deltas for Environmental Defense Fund. "We are confident the president will follow through on his pledge to invest the resources necessary to restore coastal Louisiana and protect it from the next Katrina."
The other letter signers included:
- Steven Peyronnin, Executive Director, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana
- Ann Rheams, Executive Director, Lake Pontchartain Basin Foundation
- Cynthia Sarthou, Executive Director, Gulf Restoration Network
- Terri King, Manager, Gulf Coast Operations, Conoco-Philips
- Jeff Benoit, President/CEO, Restore America's Estuaries
- R. King Milling, President, America's Wetland Foundation
- Michael Hecht, President/CEO, Greater New Orleans Inc.
- Ted Falgout, Director, Greater Lafourche Port Commission
- Charlotte Randolph, President, Lafourche Parish/President, Parishes Against Coastal Erosion
- Adam Mcbride, Director, Port of Lake Charles
- Ken Babcock, Senior Director of Conservation, Ducks Unlimited
- Gary Lagrange, Director, Port of New Orleans
- Pam Dashiel and Charles Allen, Co-Directors, Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development
- Scott Burns, Environmental Program Director, Walton Family Foundation
Seven water projects nominated for Atchafalaya Basin
The Atchafalaya Basin Project's Technical Advisory Group met Oct. 1 to review, approve and prioritize water management projects in the basin. The group proposed seven of the 14 potential projects for inclusion in the Fiscal Year 2011 Atchafalaya Basin Plan. Now the projects will undergo a series of reviews, engineering studies, and public meetings before they are submitted to the state legislature in 2010.
The following is the list of proposed projects projects in order of priority, as determined by the advisory group.
- Cocodrie Swamp Project - This project aims to open all natural waterways blocked by the spoil banks on the Panotec Canal, with a focus on improving water quality.
- Sorrel Oilfield Canal - This project proposes opening Location Canal into the swamp north of Bayou Sorrel and dredging the oilfield canal to move water down to Spike Bay and Berry Lake, which will improve water quality.
- Brown Bayou to I-10 Canal - This project will open Brown Bayou and dredge it, allowing fresh water to flow into the lower Bayou de Glaises management unit, which will improve water quality.
- Bayou Fourche - This project will open and dredge several areas of this bayou, improving water circulation and quality south of Postillion Canal.
- Big Bayou Pigeon - This project will dredge the bayou, improving navigation and water quality in several southern areas.
- Little Bayou Pigeon - This project will dredge the bayou, improving water quality and access to the bayou.
- Maintenance to 16" and 21" pipeline canals - This project will dredge silt from pipeline openings, allowing fresh water flow and water quality to be improved throughout the basin.