CPRA board approves final version of 50-year, $50B plan to protect Louisiana's eroding coastline
The state coastal board on Wednesday unanimously approved the latest iteration of Louisiana’s 50-year, $50 billion plan to combat land loss and protect coastal communities from hurricanes.
The final 2023 Coastal Master Plan would mark the fourth version of the strategic, science-based road map for investing in a mix of coastal restoration projects like dredging and pumping sand to rebuild degraded marsh, and hard infrastructure like levees and floodgates to lower the risk posed by storm surge.
Consistent with past plans, board members offered their support of the plan on Wednesday, commending the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s efforts to work with different communities to build the plan.
“This is the most inclusive, responsive and forward-thinking plan in terms of applied science, community engagement and proposing solutions,” said Simone Maloz, a board member and campaign director for the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition.
Board chairman Chip Kline pointed to the plan’s potential, if fully implemented, to reduce Louisiana residents’ risk from storms to even less than what they face today.“The 2023 Coastal Master Plan is the most expansive this agency has produced, giving us an unprecedented opportunity to improve the lives of south Louisianans who are looking to the state for answers to some of the most dire issues facing Louisiana,” Kline said.
The coastal authority’s final plan incorporated public input provided after releasing the draft in January. Since then, officials held four public hearings and collected 209 comments.
Now, the 2023 plan includes a suite of 77 projects — up from 73 in the draft plan. The state agency added four ridge restoration projects along the coast as a result of public comment, stating that the agency had selected fewer ridge projects than in past versions of the plan.
The master plan acts as a guiding document to prioritize projects based on how much they’ll help communities should the funding become available. Currently, most projects funded under the program are paid for by BP settlement dollars from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, though that money is expected to run out within the next decade.
The new ridge projects include: the Cheniere au Tigre and Pecan Island in Vermillion Parish, Lower Bayou Petit Caillou in Terrebonne Parish, and Bayou La Loutre in St. Bernard Parish. Combined, they’re worth $75 million.
Stu Brown, who leads CPRA’s strategic planning division, said they also heard concerns from southwest Louisiana residents who wanted more structural projects, like levees, planned in their region after the area was battered by Hurricanes Laura and Delta in 2020.
Brown said no structural projects were proposed during the 2023 master plan development process, likely in part due to the ongoing recovery. The agency plans to look into possible structural projects as they work toward the 2029 master plan, which by law is the next year CPRA must update the coastal master plan to let science guide each iteration. Officials also added language in the final 2023 plan citing its commitment for such projects in six years.
The agency also added language about managed retreat – or moving people and infrastructure proactively before conditions become too dire – for the first time in a master plan. The agency specified it has no plans to force people to move. Instead, it offers guidance in the plan to help people determine how safe it is to live in their area.
In January, Brown said CPRA’s near-term modeling suggested that most of the coast won’t be at risk of flooding that renders the area unliveable, at least within the next 20 years. In the plan, the state sets that threshold at areas that would experience 14 feet or more of storm surge during a storm that has a 1% chance of happening each year, also nicknamed a 100-year storm.
The new language in the plan advises residents interested in moving out due to their flood risk to contact their parish government. It adds that the state “may offer support to help you elevate your home or move out of a vulnerable area.”
Brown said they also clarified their explanation of the Federal Emergency Management Authority’s new Risk Rating 2.0 methodology for the National Flood Insurance Program and how it will affect Louisiana residents. The agency goes as far as saying FEMA has provided “insufficient” information for people in Louisiana to fully understand how the new flood insurance rates are set.
In the coming weeks, the state plans to release the executive summary of the plan in Spanish, Vietnamese and French.
The final Coastal Master Plan will also work its way through the state legislature during the 2023 regular session, beginning with committee presentations on Wednesday. The plan will need to be approved in a resolution by Louisiana’s House of Representatives and Senate before landing on the governor’s desk.