Friday, October 2, 2015

The Advocate: Coastal Funding Shouldn't Suffer



Our Views: Coastal funding shouldn't suffer because of failure to properly budget highway projects

While Louisiana's coastal preservation efforts are going to get a big boost from legal settlements arising from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, it is important that politicians don't get greedy.

Down the road, and not far down the road, Louisiana will continue to be pushing for federal assistance to make much larger investments in what is estimated to be - conservatively - a $50 billion coastal restoration plan.

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Pelicans perch on a shrinking grove of mangrove trees on Thursday on Cat Island in Barataria Bay southwest of Port Sulphur. As the fourth anniversary of the 2010 Gulf oil spill approaches, officials with the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition-Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation hosted a media tour to the Louisiana marsh for an on-the-ground view of wildlife and habitat.To rob coastal restoration funds for a road project is exactly the wrong route. What will the U.S. government say as future governors plead for assistance on coastal restoration?

Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to take project savings from coastal restoration work funded by the Deepwater Horizon payments and use that money to help pay for the elevation work on La. 1 to Port Fourchon.

The policy change on the money is before the Coastal Protection Restoration Authority. We hope that members reject the idea.

The proposed policy resolution would make the cost savings available once currently planned projects on the coast are done. If there is money left over, and the expectation is that there would be, cash for the road elevation project would be available.

We do not disagree that elevation of Highway 1, as it is commonly known, is a vital project. In fact, at about $300 million away from completion, it's a project that will require an infusion of money, eventually.

Where that money ought not to come from is the issue here. Members of CPRA have, for years, argued that the board ought to avoid diversions of its money for what could be perceived as pork-barrel spending.

The governor's case was made at a recent board meeting by Chip Kline, chairman of the authority board and director of coastal activities in the Governor's Office. He said La. 1 elevation is needed because the non-elevated road is more exposed to flooding. There is work going on to elevate the road from the levee system in Golden Meadow all the way to the elevated roadway in place in Leeville.

Kline also notes that the board doesn't know yet if there will be savings from the projects underway or how much could be diverted to the road project, but if the policy change is proposed, one can expect there is some expectation that money will be there.

The Jindal proposal will create a terrible precedent, that money from the Coastal Trust Fund can be used for politically popular projects. Access to Port Fourchon is vital to the oil and gas industry, and that is why we support the expensive elevation project.

What we don't support is sacrificing our future credibility for federal aid for the cost because Jindal has failed to fund properly a needed highway project.

Thank God for King Milling, the New Orleans civic leader on the board: "The funding sources have been purposefully dedicated and they should remain so," Milling said. "I am very concerned whenever I see any attempt to pull money out. That's just a slippery slope."

Even in the days after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as the nation reeled from the devastation, some members of Congress denounced aid to Louisiana as a boondoggle or a giveaway. That cry may easily be raised again, if Jindal and the CPRA board give the argument credibility by a diversion of coastal funds to a highway project.
To see the article online, click here



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