A tenth of an inch a year? Parts of south Louisiana are sinking at a rate ten times faster. Public officials throughout the Bayou State have known about the continuing and growing losses for decades. There have been numerous studies done, but that’s about it. And as each year passes, the cost to remedy this problem continues to escalate.
Twenty-five years ago, the cost of major damage mitigation was pegged at $14 million. There was the assumption that substantial federal help would be available. After all, the nation has benefited tremendously from the reaping the state’s natural resources -- oil and gas, seafood, sulfur, not to mention that Louisiana is the largest chemical producer in the country. And Louisiana’s congressional delegation repeatedly ballyhooed how strong their political sway was in Washington.
But the dollars never materialized. And now the price tag has skyrocketed. State officials currently give out figures as high as $50 billion. But some scientists, a number of whom have been left out of any solution discussions, say this figure is drastically low. A minimum of $100 billion or even higher would be more like it, they say.
So while Louisiana state agencies continue to dawdle instead of uniting behind one cohesive master plan, the competition for federal dollars increases dramatically. Florida is lobbying for appropriations to save their everglades. Hurricane Sandy showed the vulnerability of New York, not to mention the large swatches of land along the New Jersey shore that are at risk. Boston is now in the mix as are a number of other cities along the east coast. All these areas are now competing for federal funds at a time when federal deficits make it unlikely that such dollars will be forthcoming.
So what can be done to stop the sinking? Parts of south Louisiana, primarily around Terrebonne Parish, are proposing a seawall around the more populated areas, similar to the current flood protection around the greater New Orleans area. The problem with such a plan is that many parts of south Louisiana will be left out. Basically, those proposing such a plan are playing defense.
Those scientists who have studied this problem for years, and who are rarely consulted by state officials, say the state has to go on the offense. Their plan, and in their opinion the only plan that has any chance of long-term success, is a massive sediment diversion on the lower Mississippi river. Diversion canals would be built with dams and other outflow structures to flood low lying areas that would be covered, over time, with new sediment from the river. This would be expensive, but many feel, and I’m beginning to agree, that this could be the only viable long-range solution.
So how do you pay for such a project? In a number of ways. Hopefully, a BP damage settlement should bring in five to seven billion dollars. That’s a start. Secondly, after years of state officials turning a blind eye to oil company environmental damage, a south Louisiana level board has filed suit to hold the oil industry accountable. My guess is that the industry knows it has massive exposure, and that some settlement with the state will come about. The dollars should be in the multi-billions and could help in kick starting a major land recovery effort.
Then there is an old idea that seems to be gaining new momentum, and that’s a CWEL tax on new energy production. Governor Dave Treen, a republican, came up with the idea in 1982. The Coastal Wetlands Environmental Levy would be a “go forward” tax on oil and gas production to mitigate future damage.
These three funding sources would give the state a fighting chance to stem the land erosion. If a nation were to invade the U.S. and seize thousands of American acres, would we stand idly by, or go to war to reclaim and further protect our land? Well, we are at war -- with nature. If we don’t win, then Randy Newman’s song prophecy will surely come true. “Louisiana -- they’re goin’ to wash us away.”
Peace and Justice