Members of the House Transportation Committee put their stamp of approval on the Coastal Restoration Spending Plan for the upcoming fiscal year. Jerome Zeringue, director of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, says they’ll spend $725-million. Most of that money is oil-spill funds from BP.
“We’ll always lose land on the coast, because it’s a dynamic system,” Zeringue said, explaining that new projects should create as much land as the state is expected to lose next year. “The key is developing land that’s sustainable, and that’s what this plan does.”
But specific projects included in the plan prompted objections. John Tesvich with the Oyster Task Force says they don’t mind the dredging, but diversion projects are a problem.
“We want the sediments from the diversion,” Tesvich said. “We don’t want the fresh water.”
Oyster fishermen say freshwater diversion projects kill the shellfish, which require salty conditions to live and grow.
George Cavignac with the St. Bernard Parish Council warned that diversions will financially devastate communities near those projects.
“We’re standing to lose over 300-million dollars in state and local tax revenue,” Cavignac predicted. “That’s tourism and fishing, recreational and commercial, that these estuaries depend on.”
John Barry, former head of the Southeast Louisiana Levee Board-East, urged caution before using up all the BP dollars in the Coastal Restoration Fund. He reminded lawmakers that the state starts paying its share of the post-Katrina New Orleans-area levee work in Fiscal Year 2016. It will be the first of 30 annual $73-million payments to the federal government.
Barry noted that promised sources for future coastal rebuilding efforts, including federal revenue sharing from offshore oil leases, are not guaranteed to materialize.
“Hope is not a plan,” Barry said.
With the approval of House Transportation, and the prior approval of House Natural Resources committees, the spending plan now heads to the full House floor.