Groups praise Obama administration for new cooperative effort to restore Louisiana and Mississippi coastal wetlands
On the eve of the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (August 29), Louisiana and national environmental groups praised the Obama administration for announcing a new interagency working group to restore the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi.
The severity of Katrina's damage was caused, in part, by the fact that Louisiana has lost one-third of its original wetlands - 2,000 square miles - an area larger than Delaware. Yet, four years after Katrina, Congress has been unable to fund major coastal restoration projects it authorized in the 2007 Water Resources Development Act because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has not completed the projects' design and engineering.
According to the administration: “The group will enable federal agencies, working with state and local governments and other regional stakeholders, to come together and develop a strategy to increase both the economic and environmental resiliency of the region. This working group will serve as a pilot for addressing the effects of climate change in other coastal regions.”
"This new announcement from the Obama administration recognizes the urgency under which we are operating and replaces what has been largely rhetoric with action. We are all very excited to get to work to restore this world class ecosystem,” said Brian Moore, director of Budget and Appropriations for the National Audubon Society.
See President Obama’s latest weekly video address, which focuses on recovery for Louisiana’s battered coast.
Coalition asks Corps to honor President's wetlands restoration pledge
The fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina took place last week, prompting a coalition of 17 advocacy groups to urge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to honor President Obama's priority in his budget and campaign
"to restore nature's barriers – the wetlands, marshes and barrier islands that can take the first blows and protect the people of the Gulf Coast."
To complement this call to action, the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) Must GO coalition led a media tour through two communities along coastal areas directly affected by the outlet - the Lower 9th Ward and Chalmette - and also took reporters in an airplane to fly over the MRGO. The media tour began with a news conference at the Bayou Bienvenue platform in the Lower 9th Ward with van tour stops at the Inner Harbor Canal lock in the 9th Ward and the St. Bernard Sewage and Water Board pumping station in Chalmette.
In attendance for the van tour were Environmental Defense Fund’s Courtney Taylor and Sean Crowley, along with National Wildlife Federation’s Amanda Moore and Ben Weber. Carlton Dufrechou provided an airplane tour of the lost wetlands.
Both local and national media covered the event including the New York Times; CNN; Bloomberg News; the New Orleans Times-Picayune, which ran two stories; and WDSU (the local NBC station), among others. In addition, The Philadelphia Inquirer
, Montgomery Advertiser, and Macon Telegraph published opeds about the Katrina anniversary by Mary Kelly, senior counsel for the Center for Rivers and Deltas at Environmental Defense Fund.
Communities convene for wetland restoration
Two events in August brought together more than 150 residents of the Lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish to seek community input on restoration of areas impacted by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), including the 30,000 acre Central Wetlands-Bayou Bienvenue area.
Community engagement is vital to getting restoration of the MRGO area done quickly and done right, and restoring the wetlands affected by MRGO could provide critical storm surge protection to both communities, create habitat and provide economic and recreation opportunities.
The first event brought together residents of St. Bernard Parish, parish council members, Corps officials, State Representative Reed Henderson and staff from the office of Louisiana's junior U.S. Senator David Vitter to raise awareness about the delays in restoration of the MRGO wetlands and rally the community to push for completion. See a video and media coverage of this event.
Later that week, residents of the Lower 9th Ward came together to hear about the various restoration proposals for the Central Wetlands-Bayou Bienvenue wetlands from the various non-governmental organizations, academic and government officials working in the area. The meeting sought community input about its priorities.
Community members at both events expressed urgency for restoration.
Input sought for 2011 Atchafalaya program plan
Input on the Atchafalaya Basin Program’s annual plan was gathered in August at public meetings held in Morgan City, Pequemine and Henderson, providing attendees a chance to propose projects for the 2011 plan.
Many of the proposed projects involve openings of streams or cuts in banks for improved water flow; others suggest closures of openings to reduce backwater sediment distribution. National Audubon Society's Karen Westphal submitted a proposal for using the mini-dredge technology that the group is developing to clean out sediment traps and open shallow waterways. Some projects that did not make the present plan also were re-proposed, including one to improve a public water intake, one to dredge the American Pass "sediment trap," and additional proposals to continue recreation projects begun under previous plans.
Now, the Atchafalaya Basin Program’s Technical Advisory Group will review, refine and select projects for recommendation to the Basin Research and Promotion Board in November. The board is responsible for approving the annual plan for submission to the Louisiana state legislature by February 2010.
Disappointing state session for coastal Louisiana restoration
What began as a promising boost for coastal funding in the 2009 Louisiana legislative session, concluded with a sense of disappointment, as state lawmakers trimmed proposed spending on coastal protection and restoration efforts. The governor’s budget proposed $300 million in state surplus spending for coastal protection and restoration efforts, but by the close of session, negotiations trimmed the figure by $10 million to $290 million.
Coastal projects in line for the surplus spending experienced nearly a three percent cut across the board, including state contributions to the federal levee system in New Orleans, as the state was forced to reduce anticipated funding for critical restoration and protection projects.
“It’s frustrating that while we’re trying to convince the federal government to invest in coastal protection and restoration, our own state-lawmakers are cutting funding to critical coastal projects across the state,” said Steven Peyronnin, executive director for the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.
Landrieu/Jackson in Netherlands #1 YouTube video!
Living with water, and the future of New Orleans' port, were just two of the issues discussed during this spring's congressional delegation trip to the Netherlands. Senator Mary Landrieu organized the trip, which included EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who grew up in the Lower 9th Ward.
Levees.org created a video showing footage from the trip, which quickly became the number one most-viewed video on YouTube, as well as the ninth most-discussed.
Click here to watch the video.