(The Center Square) — Officials with the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority are forging ahead with a new coastal master plan for 2023, and are now moving into a public comment phase through March.
CPRA officials discussed progress with the plan Wednesday during a meeting before the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Board in Baton Rouge.
“We have an unprecedented opportunity in front of us,” board chairman Chip Kline said of the 50-year plan. “There is a lot of issues that come before this board, and none is more important than the process we’re going through to update the plan. It is the most important work this board does.”
The 2023 plan builds on the previous master plan’s efforts to reduce storm surge-based flood risk, provide habitats to support an array of commercial and recreational activities, and support infrastructure critical to the working coast over the next five decades.
“The annual plan presented to the Legislature this year will surpass last year’s plan” with an estimated $25 billion in restoration projects, Klein said.
The new plan includes fresh metrics for predicting future damage, with expected dollars of damage and “expected annual structural damage” included in calculations, said Stuart Brown, a CPRA assistant administrator of strategic planning.
“It’s an effort to better address questions of equity and a response to criticism to other metrics that have been used in projects in the past,” he said.
The criticism centered on favoritism toward projects in more affluent areas with higher value structures, and the new approach takes into consideration the number of structures protected to provide a more balanced approach, Brown said.
“We weighted them evenly in our project selection process,” he said.
The updated 2023 draft plan includes 61 projects totaling about $25 billion, with structural risk reduction accounting for $14 billion and non-structural risk reductions of $11.2 billion.
The draft plan includes $2.7 billion in new diversions, over $19 billion in dredging, and another $25 billion in programmatic spending on barrier islands, small-scale hydrologic restoration, oyster reefs and shoreline protection.
Dredging, Brown said, “is by far the largest component of our restoration strategy.”
The proposed spending includes $230 million in hydrologic restoration, $37 million in ridge restoration, $16 billion in marsh creation, and $2.9 billion in land bridge work, officials said.
The work is expected to result in between 233 and 314 square miles of built or maintained land that would otherwise be lost in 50 years. In terms of risk reduction, the draft plan would reduce risk by between 60% and 70%, or between $10.8 billion and $14.6 billion, based on a varying scenarios.
“Measured in expected annual structural damage the plan reduces coastwide risk by up to 78% under the lower scenario and 65% under the higher scenario,” according to the Wednesday CPRA presentation.
Officials expect to distribute fact sheets detailing the plan’s expected impact for the state’s different regions, parishes and communities in the coming weeks.
The draft plan was published on Jan. 6, and the public comment period is now open until March 25. CPRA will hold public hearings in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Houma, and Lake Charles in January and February, after which officials will incorporate feedback into an updated draft that will be presented to the CPRA board on April 19, Brown said.
The CPRA expects to submit a final plan to the legislature by April 24.
More information about the plan, public meetings, and ways to submit public comment is available on the CPRA website.