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Louisiana Plans to Spend $877M on 23 Square Miles of Coastal Projects

Tue March 02, 2021 - Southeast Edition
New Orleans Times-Picayune

The proposed fiscal year 2022 coastal restoration and protection annual plan includes $75 million fo reconstruction of the Spanish Pass ridge and marsh creation project in the Barataria Basin in Plaquemines Parish. (Louisiana Trustee Implementation Group photo)
The proposed fiscal year 2022 coastal restoration and protection annual plan includes $75 million fo reconstruction of the Spanish Pass ridge and marsh creation project in the Barataria Basin in Plaquemines Parish. (Louisiana Trustee Implementation Group photo)

The Bayou State wants to spend $877 million in fiscal 2022 on coastal projects building more than 23 square miles of land and on advancing hurricane storm surge reduction work along the state's southeastern and south-central shoreline.

The plan represents a 19 percent reduction in spending from the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. That's primarily the result of delays in getting permits for the $1.4 billion Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion project, said Chuck Perrodin, spokesperson of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, which tracks federally funded major projects, forecasts Mid-Barataria permitting in April 2022, so initial construction likely wouldn't begin until later.

In March, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to release a first draft of its environmental impact statement and federal permits for the project. That is to be followed by a series of public hearings, then completion of a final environmental statement and permits over the next year.

The Mid-Barataria project is being largely funded with money set aside from criminal penalty settlements with BP and its drilling partners after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Payments are distributed to states through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The state's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority began examining its proposed budget for fiscal 2022 on Feb. 19. It includes $633 million for continuing and new construction of restoration and levee projects, using a mix of state and federal money for projects that are being built by both levels of government.

The total budget of $877 million is $203 million less than what the agency approved for fiscal 2021. It's also $210 million less than what agency officials last year predicted would be spent in 2022.

The plan does include approximately $50 million to continue design and permitting work on both the Mid-Barataria and Mid-Breton sediment diversions. These projects — flagship efforts of Louisiana's 50-year plan to save the bottom third of the state from disappearing into the Gulf of Mexico — would siphon sediment suspended in the Mississippi River and direct it into nearby marshes in hopes of building more land.

The $800 million Mid-Breton project is not expected to complete its permitting process until February 2024.

The budget includes 66 southeast Louisiana projects that are either already under construction or on which construction will begin during the year, 35 in the south-central region and nine in southwest Louisiana. The restoration portion includes 19 dredging projects that will use more than 92.4 million cubic yards of dredged material to create or nourish almost 15,000 acres, slightly more than 23 square miles, of coastal wetlands.

"We have never wavered in our commitment to dredging as a major tool in our restoration and protection efforts," said Bren Haase, the coastal authority's executive director. "We'll have more dredging projects under way in the upcoming fiscal year than ever before in our history."

The single largest chunk of money in the 2022 spending plan is $75 million to build the Spanish Pass increment of the Barataria Basin Ridge and Marsh Restoration project in Plaquemines Parish. This would create and nourish approximately 132 acres of historical ridge and 1,683 acres of marsh.

The plan also includes more than $108 million for four projects to rebuild marshes and oyster reefs around Lake Borgne, including the Golden Triangle area and the Biloxi Marsh shoreline.

Additional funding is projected in the budget for several levee projects:

  • More than $15 million for the Morganza to the Gulf levee system in the Houma area
  • About $20 million for the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain levee project in St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes
  • Almost $8 million for levees in the Lafitte area
  • Almost $10 million for individual levee projects that are part of the new Upper Barataria levee system on the west bank of St. Charles and Lafourche parishes
  • A total of $6 million to elevate Plaquemines Parish's post-Katrina hurricane levees along the Mississippi River between Oakville and LaReusitte to 100-year elevations, meaning the levee will be high enough to block surge from a hurricane with a 1 percent chance of occurring in any year
  • $2 million to increase shoreline protection along Lake Pontchartrain in Jefferson Parish
  • Slightly more than $3 million to start building a ring levee around Slidell.

The state plan also includes another $18 million to improve beaches on Grand Terre Island, just east of Grand Isle, and slightly more than $3 million to continue the state's coastwide nutria control program, which includes paying bounties to hunters for killing nutria in specific locations. An invasive species, nutria are large rodents with voracious appetites that decimate native plant species in Louisiana's marshlands.

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