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Faculty and students discuss Governor’s coastal erosion plans

April 6, 2017

Nicholls faculty and students discussed coastal challenges after Gov. John Bel Edwards released details on proposed legislation for protecting and restoring Louisiana’s coast.

The Coastal Master Plan is a document produced by the state and updated every five years. It outlines proposed projects that address the coastal restoration issue. Each project includes the location, the type of project, the benefits and the cost of the project.

The plan proposed 120 projects that will build or maintain more than 800 square miles of land and reduce expected damage to the land by $8.3 billion annually by 2067. Twenty-seven projects are projected for 2018.

The concurrent resolution focused on the investment of flood proofing more than 1,400 structures, elevation of more than 22,000 structures and voluntary acquisition of about 2,400 structures.

Gary Lafleur, associate professor of biological sciences, explained how Louisiana is the first of the states to produce a coastal masterplan.

“The Coastal Master Plan is trying to restore a coast that is an ecologically cohesive and working ecosystem,” said LaFleur. “It is trying to make a living system, which is hard to do, but probably better than just building a really nice levee.”

Lafleur explained that the plan is good, but the bigger issue is where the money will come from to fund these efforts. He said three funding options could come from the state, the federal government and mitigation penalties.

According to Johnny Bradberry, the governor’s executive assistant for coastal activities, revenue for the restoration program will come from the Deep Water Horizon oil spill and other federal funding sources.

Nicholls is the university that is closest to the coast. The Nicholls community had made a strong investment in projects that contribute to coastal restoration.

Nicholls had contributed to restoration efforts through a wetland plant propagation project. Students planted plants on land from Grand Isle to Raccoon Island. This was a collaborative effort with Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary (BTNEP).

Students had also monitored birds on Raccoon Island to determine if the island was living.

Lafleur said that his students monitored vegetation on Trinity Island using drones to measure how many species are covering the island.

Quenton Fontenot, professor of biological studies, said that preserving Louisiana’s wetlands is not only economically important, but also culturally important.

“Our ancestors grew up in the coastal wetlands and they learned how to use those wetlands to provide food and shelter,” said Fontenot. “Our whole history and heritage come from those coastal wetlands and if we aren’t living in those wetlands ,we lose a big part of who we are. We lose our identity.”

Ashleigh Lambiotte, senior biology major from Hoover, Alabama, explained how all citizens have a say when it comes to restoration efforts.

“Scientists can only do so much,” Lambiotte said. “Talking to the community is a huge part of understanding what is actually happening and what we can do.”

Lambiotte said that Louisiana is really doing well in taking a stance to fix the issues.

“We are never going to make the coast what it once was, but we can try to preserve what we have now,” Lambiotte said.

In a press release from the Governor’s office, Gov. Edwards said, “Implementing this plan will reduce risk, build and sustain land for the benefit of all people, our economy and our ecosystem for generations to come. We are in a race against time to save our coast, and it is time we make bold decisions now.”

Gov. Edwards’ proposed legislation will be considered in Regular Session, which begins April 10.

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