Guest column: Spend coastal money quickly

Dec 21, 2016

How can Louisiana get more out of the billions of dollars coming its way for marsh restoration in the next few decades?

Spend the money as quickly as possible.

Here’s why, and it’s simple: Marsh creation using dredged material is the single largest category of costs in the state’s coastal restoration plan — roughly $18 billion. And each day that goes by, construction costs and sea levels continue to rise as coastal marshes continue to sink.

The net result is that even under the most optimistic scenario, the price tag for restoring an acre of Louisiana wetlands will more than double in the next 20 years, according to a new analysis by The Water Institute of the Gulf.

The good news is the analysis also shows that Louisiana can save hundreds of millions of dollars by moving projects forward more rapidly. This means finding ways to advance the money that will come to Louisiana over time, but that we could use now.

This includes settlement dollars from BP and other companies for their roles in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, money which is currently slated to be paid out over 15 years. And it includes offshore revenues that will come to Louisiana annually under the federal Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act.

The Water Institute analysis found that bonding those revenues to start projects sooner could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars. In one case study, the estimated savings from a project financed by a bond issue exceeded $180 million — more than double the initial project cost.

Another recent analysis by The Water Institute found that sediment diversions, projects which take sediment from the Mississippi and other rivers and return it to surrounding wetlands to sustain and build land, can increase the life span of a nearby marsh creation project by up to 30 years. So by moving the spending up, and by moving sediment diversions quickly, we can save money and get more cost-effective projects.

Of course, these savings will cover a relatively small percentage of the cost for restoring and protecting Louisiana’s coast under the state’s $50-billion, 50-year Coastal Master Plan. But that makes finding these savings in implementation of our coastal plan even more important. Finding additional funding sources over time will be crucial as well.

The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority should be commended for making swift and significant progress in addressing Louisiana’s land loss crisis. Since the 2007 master plan, 52 miles of barrier islands and berms have been constructed or are underway, and 274 miles of levees have been improved. With 112 million cubic yards of sediment fill, the state has benefitted more than 30,000 acres of wetlands.

But they can only apply the resources that are available. By building on this progress, including quickly seeking opportunities to advance restoration funding, CPRA can protect current investments and save money while restoring and protecting Louisiana’s coastal areas.