White House Roadmap Clears Barriers to Gulf Coast Restoration

WASHINGTON, DC, March 4, 2010 (ENS) – To protect and restore the coastal ecosystems of Louisiana and Mississippi, Obama administration officials today released a “Roadmap” that defines a new planning process to overcome long-standing policy and procedural barriers to coastal restoration.

In keeping with President Barack Obama’s effort to cut through red tape and ensure residents of the Gulf Coast have access to the tools and funds they need to rebuild after repeated hurricanes, wetland loss and coastal erosion, the Roadmap outlines federal actions over the next 18 months to address policy, process, and legal hurdles.

The Roadmap was issued by the Louisiana-Mississippi Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Working Group, formed by President Obama in October 2009 and co-led by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, CEQ, and the Office of Management and Budget.

Foggy morning on a bayou near Slidell, Louisiana (Photo by eightylbs)

“The Louisiana and Mississippi coastal region is critical to the economic, cultural, and environmental integrity of the nation,” said CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley. “We have a unique opportunity to address the issue of coastal resiliency in the face of ever-present change. With bold and decisive action, we can slow the rate of ecosystem loss in the area and, where possible, restore the ecosystems and the services they provide.”

In the Working Group are senior officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the departments of the Army, Homeland Security, the Interior, and Transportation.

“The most important aspect of the Working Group is the Federal Government’s reaffirmation of its partnership with the States of Mississippi and Louisiana and its commitment to coordinate its actions with those of the States,” the Roadmap declares.

That approach is welcomed by Working Group member Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works. She has charge of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is engaged in many ongoing projects in this coastal area.

“The Roadmap maximizes the impact of Federal resources over the next 18 months, and we are very pleased with the spirit of inter-agency cooperation and commitment that is already in evidence,” Darcy said today.

Every plan proposed in the region in the last 20 years has recognized the extraordinary rate of coastal wetland and barrier island ecosystem loss in Louisiana and Mississippi and the importance of large scale action to address the problem.

But persistent barriers have prevented the promised protection, conservation, and restoration actions from fully materializing, the Roadmap states.

Working Group meetings with key stakeholders both in the region and in Washington, DC heard that:

  • Inadequate coordination within and among federal agencies impedes movement of projects to construction.
  • Water resource policies in some cases inhibit ecosystem restoration efforts such as those designed to use sediment to greater ecosystem benefit.
  • Inconsistent or opaque priority-setting undermines cooperation and support for projects.
  • Incomplete research and science challenges all aspects of planning, priority setting, and project design.
  • Budget constraints can compound these impediments and delay restoration efforts.

The Roadmap proposes to improve cooperation and coordination between various federal and state entities through a new governance model.

“A greater emphasis on research and data sharing will improve project planning and design as well as adaptive management over time,” the plan states.

“Considering possible statutory changes needed to address obstacles that cannot be overcome through administrative remedies will ensure greater alignment of Federal actions. Reconsidering critical policies, regulations, and even statutes such as those governing sediment management and mitigation will help, rather than hinder, restoration efforts. The exploration of alternative financing mechanisms could foster progress on projects.”

“The resolution of these issues will not solve all of the problems in the region, but they do represent the most urgent short-term objectives and actions identified by the Working Group as necessary to advance restoration and protection efforts in the region,” the Roadmap says.

In Baton Rouge today, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Chairman Garret Graves called the Working Group’s report “a welcome road map to advance restoration and protection activities in South Louisiana.”

“The current federal process is broken and fundamental change is needed to restore our coast and protect the more than two million Louisianans that live in coastal Louisiana,” the two state officials said. “This road map is a good first step that clearly demonstrates a positive shift in direction, but must be coupled with aggressive action on the ground – turning dirt. There is no time for delay.”

“One important lesson we learned from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita is the need for a comprehensive vision,” they said. As the state begins working with the White House on the implementation of this plan, we must insure the inclusion of all aspects of a multiple lines of defense strategy to protect our citizens in addition to the coastal ecosystem.”

Graves said, “The challenges we face are complex and require the full attention and high-level participation from numerous federal agencies. This report lays out how the federal government can join the state by coordinating resources from various agencies to reverse our extraordinary coastal loss and proactively address vulnerabilities that have developed over the last 80 years.”

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, today expressed her suppport for the Roadmap.

“For the first time, a President has put together a cabinet level group to take stock of the crisis in coastal Louisiana and outline a roadmap to meeting these challenges now,” Senator Landrieu said.

“The first recommendation of this group is that we establish a new model for implementing and executing this important work. I could not agree more,” she said. “We cannot be hamstrung by the bureaucracy of the Corps or the red tape of any other federal agency. We need an integrated, comprehensive approach that accelerates our work in coastal Louisiana and builds a true partnership with the State.”

Click here to view the “Louisiana-Mississippi Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Working Group Roadmap for Restoring Ecosystem Resiliency and Sustainability.”

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