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Sunday, July 21, 2019

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Wetlands forum highlights action and initiatives to push coastal restoration forward

Wetlands forum highlights action and initiatives to push coastal restoration forward

THIBODAUX, LA - At the Coastal Wetland Communities Adaptation Leadership Forum, hosted by the America's WETLAND Foundation (AWF) at Nicholls State University, a recurring theme emerged - Louisiana's coastal communities will survive the rising tide as local governments have taken extraordinary measures and partnered with the state and private industry to save the state's disappearing coastline.

Terrebonne Parish President Gordon "Gordy" Dove and Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District Executive Director Reggie Dupre, Jr. told the 75 participating coastal leaders how almost $1 billion in locally led restoration projects were made possible because the people of Terrebonne and Lafourche Parish voted to tax themselves and partner with the state, finding innovative solutions to save their land.

"I honestly believe with another Ike, or another Rita, we would have a 90% reduction in homes going under water, but we could become a victim of our own success," Dupre explained. "We want the feds to become a partner in these local projects because we have invested heavily in our future."

Dr. Robert Twilley, executive director of Louisiana Sea Grant, reminded participants about a report done ten years ago that is most relevant today.

"This is not about bouncing back but about bouncing forward. It's about integrating aggressive risk reduction methods, not into just levees, but also within the community's programs.”

Twilley, noted that ecosystem restoration was a term used during early consideration of local levees and protective measures and now we talk in terms of integrated ecosystem design. "Now every community will want a 'Morganza-to-the-Gulf ' when the next big storm hits," concluded Twilley.

Forum participants also discussed the future of the national flood insurance program, slated to end in late 2018, pointing out that it has not only helped the coastal region, but it helps the government by providing some protection on the front end.

"It is essential to building cooperation with other U.S. coastal communities to ensure that insurance is available and affordable," said Louisiana State Representative, Jerome Zeringue.

Several participants felt Louisiana should share information with other vulnerable communities around the country, pointing out this has been one of the hallmarks of the America's WETLAND Foundation's work that should continue.

Chip Kline, Chair of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) pointed out the federal government has been slow to move some hurricane protection projects forward.

The Morganza-to-the-Gulf project was authorized in 1992 to provide hurricane protection for Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes. "But not a single dime has been spent by the federal government on this project," Kline noted, "and that's not acceptable."

Kline said the time is right for private companies to play a role in coastal restoration, not only in partnership with the state, and commended the America's WETLAND Foundation for proposing an inventory of privately funded restoration initiatives designed consistent with the state's coastal master plan.

"This great ecosystem will be changing and we will never have a silver bullet to fix it all, but discussions like these continue to move the ball forward. We need to keep selling how important this issue is until it becomes part of the national psyche," concluded Representative Zeringue.