CPRA chair responds to establishment of new interagency working group for coastal Louisiana on Katrina Anniversary

Aug. 28, 2009
BATON ROUGE, LA, Aug. 28, 2009 -- Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Chairman Garret Graves released the following statement on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina...

• Garret Graves calls for federal investment in coastal Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, LA, Aug. 28, 2009 -- Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Chairman Garret Graves released the following statement on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the landfall of Hurricane Katrina and in regards to news from the Obama Administration that a new inter-agency task force may be created to conduct ecosystem restoration projects in coastal Louisiana and Mississippi:

"Four years after Hurricane Katrina, the flood protection system in the Greater New Orleans Area is improving on a daily basis. The majority of repairs to the system have been completed and more than one million residents of this area have improved protection. This is a step forward, but there is an extraordinary void in recovery and restoration efforts.

Hurricane Katrina and Rita caused the loss of more than 200 square miles of coastal lands and wetlands in Louisiana. Since that time, our state has lost an additional 140 square miles of our coast with the passing of two more destructive hurricanes in 2008.

The best coastal scientists and engineers in the world have stated repeatedly that the levees installed by the federal government on the Mississippi River system are the primary cause of an estimated 2300 square miles of our coastal lands. Levees cut off the sediment to our coastal area, an area that less than a century ago was accreting land with every spring flood. Our state was growing in size until the 1930s.

Had the loss of those 2300 square miles occurred in Rhode Island or Delaware, the states would no longer exist. There is irony in the fact that federal law requires civil penalties and, sometimes imprisonment, for destroying wetlands in violation of the Clean Water Act while federal actions causing the destruction of 2300 square miles of land remain wholly unmitigated.

While the construction of these levees achieved their goal of ensuring a deep-draft navigation channel on the Mississippi River and preventing river flooding, it also created one of largest environmental disasters in our nation's history - the loss of coastal Louisiana.

Recent announcements indicated a commitment on the part of the federal government of hundreds of millions of dollars to restore the Florida Everglades and a billion dollars to improve the Great Lakes' ecosystem. We support those investments to address these state and regional priorities. But, the restoration of coastal Louisiana, with its implications to our national energy security, our national maritime transportation system, trade, farmers in dozens of states, and wild domestic seafood impacts virtually every state and every American and deserves at least equal treatment and consideration by our federal government.

Earlier this year, the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority identified dozens of ecosystem restoration projects in coastal Louisiana that were, and remain, "shovel-ready" and presented these projects to receive funding through the recent economic stimulus package. None were funded.

The recent announcement by the Obama Administration to establish an interagency working group to assist in the restoration of Louisiana's coast has great potential and we look forward to working with the federal agencies and partners on the execution of this plan. Coastal Louisiana has been studied for decades and the time to move past redundant studies and regressive bureaucracies that delay the implementation of desperately needed coastal restoration projects has long passed. This new federal-state working group should be empowered to act decisively and quickly.

It is clear that the current system is broken and incapable acting with the urgency needed to address the crisis facing coastal Louisiana. Congress authorized 17 coastal restoration projects in our state totaling billions of dollars, yet every single deadline in the law that required action on the part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to advance these projects has been missed. More deadlines will be missed by the Corps later this year.

Hurricane Katrina was the worst natural disaster and engineering disaster in our nation's history. Taxpayers from all around the nation contributed to the tens of billions of dollars that were required to respond to the storm. We have two options, we can continue to address the same pre-Katrina problems with the failed pre-Katrina solutions or we can use the storm as a great learning opportunity and impose change.

We have been studying the problems in coastal Louisiana for decades. Since Katrina and Rita, Congress has authorized the comprehensive restoration of the coast and provided expedited processes to move this work forward as quickly as possible. It is time for the federal agencies responsible for carrying out Congress's demands get to work.

The time for action is now. "

About the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority
The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority's mandate is to develop, implement and enforce a comprehensive coastal protection and restoration master plan. For the first time in Louisiana's history, this single state authority will integrate coastal restoration and hurricane protection by marshalling the expertise and resources of the Louisiana Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration, and other state agencies, to speak with one clear voice for the future of Louisiana's coast. Working with federal, state and local political subdivisions, including levee districts, the CPRA will work to establish a safe and sustainable coast that will protect our communities, the nation's critical energy infrastructure, and our bountiful natural resources for generations to come. The CPRA of Louisiana was established by Act 8 of the 1st Extraordinary Session of 2005.