For Immediate Release: May 20, 2009
Contact: Chris Macaluso
CPRA Discusses West Bay Diversion and Hurricane Preparedness and Response at Wednesday MeetingBATON ROUGE
-- The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority discussed the potential fate of a lower Mississippi River diversion project as well as preparations being made by state officials for the upcoming hurricane season at its monthly meeting Wednesday.
Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration project managers and engineers presented information to the Authority about the West Bay river diversion project in lower Plaquemines Parish that was built by the Coastal Wetlands Planning Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) in 2003. The project has become the focus of debate among state, Corps of Engineers and navigation industry officials over the past several months because of its potential impact on sediment deposits in the Mississippi River south of the diversion site.
According to data gathered by the Corps of Engineers since 1992, the area of the river south of the West Bay diversion has been shoaling, or becoming shallower due to sediment accretion, both before and after the project was opened.
OCPR project engineer Luke LeBas told the authority that consultants hired by the OCPR to analyze the Corps' survey data of the depths of the lower river both north and south of the diversion have estimated that project has had a minimal impact on the shoaling, despite claims that the diversion is the chief cause of sediment deposition in the river. Some have suggested closing the diversion to prevent additional shoaling.
"The data we have analyzed that was gathered by the Corps of Engineers clearly shows that this area has been getting shallower and shoaling for nearly two decades regardless of the diversion being there or not," LeBas said. "The information we used to make this determination is real, hard data gathered by the Corps of Engineers. This is not a model or an estimate. Clearly, the river in this area is getting shallower and it is becoming increasingly difficult for deepwater vessels and crew boats to travel and anchor there."
The project was built in a reach of the Mississippi River near Pilottown historically used by riverboat pilots as an anchorage area. Before opening the diversion, an agreement was signed between the CWPPRA Task Force and the navigation industry to dredge if the project caused sediment to accrete in the anchorage making it too shallow to anchor deep-draft vessels.
The CWPPRA program paid to have the anchorage dredged before the project was opened but that dredged area has filled in, LeBas said. The CWPPRA Task Force has agreed to spend as much as $11 million to dredge the anchorage area again this year.
"We are very concerned because there is an effort to close this project and that effort is not based on science," said Authority Chairman Garret Graves. "Spending millions of dollars from CWPPRA that is meant for restoration projects on dredging in the river is concerning as well because that decision doesn't seem to be based on science either. If this area is not a sustainable anchorage area, we need to direct resources and work closely with the Corps and the navigation industry to find a resolution to this issue and move forward."
The project opened a gap in the west bank of the Mississippi River to divert about 20,000 cubic feet per second of sediment-laden water into West Bay to try and curb subsidence and rebuild land. OCPR engineers have said the capacity of the diversion has increased to as much as 25,000 cfs over the past five years.
OCPR officials have already met with navigation industry officials to discuss the findings and to try and determine the future of the project. OCPR officials will meet with the Corps of Engineers Thursday to further discuss the project.
In other business, OCPR Acting Executive Director Jerome Zeringue provided the Authority an update of steps being taken within OCPR to prepare for hurricanes and other potential flooding events.
Zeringue said, in the event of a hurricane this season, OCPR personnel will be embedded with every coastal levee district in order to better coordinate with the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness and other levee districts to assess needs and provide equipment as quickly as possible.
Authority Chairman Garret Graves also detailed the progress of coastal protection and restoration related legislation being considered during the current state legislative session. Graves said the Authority's 2010 Annual Plan, a detailed report of projects to be funded over the next four years, has been approved by both the Senate Natural Resources and Transportation Committees and will now move to the house for consideration. The Annual Plan must be approved by the entire legislature by a majority vote before the end of the session.
Graves informed the Authority of an attempt last week by a group of state representatives to redirect some of the proposed $300 million in surplus funding for coastal restoration and hurricane protection to highway projects. A proposed amendment to take $45 million from coastal efforts was soundly defeated May 15, but Graves cautioned that additional attempts to redirect potential funding may come before the end of the session.
The $300 million is contained in House Bill 2, which outlines all capital outlay and surplus spending for the state. The state budget surplus from the 2009 fiscal year totaled more than $865 million. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal recommended $300 million be directed to coastal restoration and hurricane protection projects with $200 million needed to acquire lands necessary for the Corps of Engineers to build $15 billion in projects for the New Orleans area hurricane protection system.
"We need $200 million right away and we have no choice but to fulfill our obligations to ensure that the Corps of Engineers stays on schedule to complete the hurricane protection work and provide 100-year protection for the New Orleans area by 2011," Graves said. "Defeating the amendments to remove some of the suggested funding was very important because we have so many projects outside the New Orleans area that are in desperate need of funding as well."
For more information about Louisiana's coastal restoration and hurricane protection efforts, please contact CPRA Public Information Director Chris Macaluso at 225-342-3968 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority's mandate is to develop, implement and enforce a comprehensive coastal protection and restoration master plan. For the first time in Louisiana's history, this single state authority will integrate coastal restoration and hurricane protection by marshalling the expertise and resources of the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Transportation and Development, and other state agencies, to speak with one clear voice for the future of Louisiana's coast. Working with federal, state and local political subdivisions, including levee districts, the CPRA will work to establish a safe and sustainable coast that will protect our communities, the nation's critical energy infrastructure, and our bountiful natural resources for generations to come. The CPRA of Louisiana was established by Act 8 of the 1st Extraordinary Session of 2005.