Houma Today: Opinion: State’s coastal plan is vitally important

By Vic Lafont Guest Columnist — The numbers are shocking: If we take no action to curb our state’s rapid coastal land loss, Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes could lose roughly 40 percent of their entire land area in the next 50 years. That would translate into a huge economic hit for our region.

A recent LSU study shows that land loss of that scale could cause $1.4 billion in infrastructure replacement costs for homes, office buildings and other infrastructure in the Houma area damaged by flooding.

Unimpeded land loss also could mean losing 6,000 jobs, $400 million in annual wages and $1.4 billion in business disruptions, according to LSU’s Economics and Policy Research Group and the non-profit Environmental Defense Fund.

Fortunately, Louisiana has a robust plan for protecting communities and restoring coastal lands in Terrebonne, Lafourche and St. Mary as well as our inland communities in Assumption Parish.

The 2017 Coastal Master Plan, now under consideration by the Louisiana Legislature, looks out 50 years and prioritizes coastal restoration, coastal protection and risk-reduction projects to address Louisiana’s increasingly severe land loss crisis and sea level rise.

The ravages of coastal flooding and storms could impact nearly every business and industry in our area, from fisheries to the oil and gas industry to the prosperous wildlife tourism. The Legislature must act to approve the 2017 master plan to help protect our communities, businesses and natural resources on which we depend.

In our area, the plan includes marsh creation, shoreline and levee protections, as well as sediment diversion projects that use the natural land-building power of rivers to rebuild and sustain nearby wetlands.

In Terrebonne Parish, these projects will protect communities such as Dulac, Cocodrie and Chauvin from coastal floodwaters that could rise as much as 15 feet without these investments in coastal restoration. Houma, Morgan City and Franklin could see floodwaters of up to nine feet without construction of projects in the current Coastal Master Plan.

One of the most critical projects for our area is funding for the engineering and design of a freshwater diversion that will use natural flows from the Atchafalaya River to restore Terrebonne marshes. Another key project is restoration around the Houma Navigation Canal Lock.

Louisiana already has invested billions of dollars rebuilding barrier islands and marshes and strengthening levees. The 2017 Coastal Master Plan will ensure continued progress in combating coastal land loss. It’s a good plan, based on the best-available science and extensive public input.

Many of our businesses are critical not only for the local jobs they support, but also for the national economy that depends on our region. Port Fourchon services 90 percent of all deepwater oil and gas structures in the Gulf of Mexico and plays a strategic national role by supplying 18 percent of the nation’s oil supply.

As seas continue to rise and land continues to sink, we’ve got to put our existing resources to work as quickly as possible to protect our region’s economy and communities and the Louisiana we all know and love.

I can’t think of a single more important action our legislators can take this year than approving the 2017 Coastal Master Plan and safeguarding the future of our communities, jobs and the Louisiana way of life we treasure.

Vic Lafont is president and CEO of the South Louisiana Economic Council.

You can read this online here.