Zeringue: coastal land building a priority for state

Jerome Zeringue, executive director of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, speaks during Monday’s St. Mary Industrial Group meeting at the Petroleum Club of Morgan City.
St. Mary Parish Levee District Executive Director Tim Matte listens while Jerome Zeringue, executive director of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, speaks during the St. Mary Industrial Group’s meeting Monday.
Storm damages also affect the coast as Louisiana experiences $2.4 billion in average annual damages.
Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority speaks
By ZACHARY FITZGERALD
MORGAN CITY — The greatest threat to Louisiana is coastal land loss, with about 16 square miles being lost per year, but the state’s master plan aims to reverse that land loss to where the state is actually building land within 20 years, Jerome Zeringue, executive director of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said Monday.
The state has lost about 1,900 square miles of coastal land since 1930, Zeringue said.
Zeringue was the guest speaker at the St. Mary Industrial Group’s monthly meeting at the Petroleum Club of Morgan City.
There are many causes of wetland loss in Louisiana but none greater than the channelization of the Mississippi River completely changing the hydrology of the state’s deltaic system. “But there are many solutions … and there is cause for optimism,” Zeringue said. 
Officials are working hard to protect coastal Louisiana because of the state’s valuable resources. Louisiana is the No. 1 producer of domestic oil, No. 1 in oil and gas reserves, No. 1 producer of crabs, shrimp, oysters and the No. 1 habitat for migratory water fowl, Zeringue said. 
Ninety-seven percent of the commercially important seafood species depend on estuaries, he said. Wetlands can also remove greenhouse gases and provides a significant buffer reducing storm impacts.
Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast was created shortly after Hurricane Katrina when the state legislature recognized that the state has to address coastal restoration and flood protection, Zeringue said. 
The 2012 master plan is estimated to cost about $50 billion, which is a “realistic expectation” over the next 50 years, Zeringue said. The plan includes $23.9 billion for restoration and $26.8 billion for flood protection.
The primary “decision drivers” for determining which projects to construct are risk reduction of coastal communities and building land that is sustainable, Zeringue said. The plan includes critical projects and the funding needed to complete them, he said. 
The authority is required to update its master plan every five years. Its most recent master plan was approved by the state legislature in 2012 and is working to implement that plan, Zeringue said. 
St. Mary Parish should be concerned about land loss in Terrebonne Parish because that is the buffer of protection for St. Mary Parish. The Atchafalaya Basin is the only actively forming delta in the U.S., Zeringue said.
The restoration work includes barrier island restoration, sediment diversion, hydraulic restoration, and marsh creation or dredging.
About $20 billion invested would create more than 200 square miles of land. The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority estimates investments of about $4 billion in diversion projects will create more than 300 square miles of land, Zeringue said. 
Storm damages also affect the coast as Louisiana experiences $2.4 billion in average annual damages. Once a storm enters the Gulf of Mexico, the highest probability of the storm making landfall is in southeast Louisiana, Zeringue said.
The state has to use all available “tools” to sustain the valuable resources of the wetlands, Zeringue said. “We can have a sustainable, viable ecosystem that’ll be here for generations if we can implement the master plan,” he said.
Ten diversions are proposed in the master plan off the Atchafalaya and Mississippi rivers, Zeringue said. Officials are looking at the possibility of increasing the Atchafalaya River flow through the Intracoastal Waterway into the Terrebonne marshes and the possibility of creating a diversion off the Atchafalaya River, he said. Officials also hope to address the “fluff” issue in the Atchafalaya River with the diversion.
The diversion off the Wax Lake Delta was built in 1944. “It’s the most mature bay head delta that we have from a diversion construction,” Zeringue said.
Even with the anticipated worst case scenario for sea level rise and subsidence, the Wax Lake Outlet near the Atchafalaya River still has the ability to build land, Zeringue said. 
State officials have to continue to make the case to the federal government and the nation that coastal Louisiana is a vital resource for the country, Zeringue said. 
Sea level rise and subsidence is going to affect all of the coastal U.S., and the technology developed in Louisiana to combat those issues will be a “transportable commodity” for use in other coastal areas, he said.
Since 2010, the $618 million spent to restore and protect coastal Louisiana has created more than 8,900 jobs in the state.
The $700 million per year in the master plan to restore the coast has the potential to create 5,000 to 10,000 jobs per year according to an LSU study, Zeringue said.
 

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