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The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) recently released its 2023 draft Coastal Master Plan, which is required by law to be updated every six years. The most recent draft is the fourth update since it was first adopted by the Louisiana Legislature in 2007 following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.[1] The coastal forecast and the plan as a whole were developed under two environmental scenarios – lower and higher – in order to account for a broader range of environmental uncertainties than previously done. Under the lower environmental scenario, if funding is secured and the projects are implemented, the plan states that it would reduce annual storm surge damage by $11 billion, the state would save an average of $11,000 in damages per structure, and 310 square miles of land loss would be avoided.[2] However, the plan also predicts that a lack of action would result in upwards of $15 billion in annual storm surge damage, the loss of another 1,100 square miles of land, and more than two million Louisianians at risk of flooding from storm surge.[3]

The newest plan boasts several updates since the 2017 draft including an updated project selection process, improved predictive models, and developments of new risk metrics. A total of 61 restoration projects and 12 risk reduction projects were ultimately selected for inclusion in the 2023 plan.[4] To fund these projects, a $50 billion overall budget was selected, which will be evenly divided between restoration projects, such as marsh creation and barrier island restoration, and risk reduction projects, like improved levees and elevating homes. The projects and funding are further divided into two implementation periods, with the most beneficial projects selected for near-term construction in the first 20 years of the plan with a budget of $25 billion. In the restoration project category, a large portion of the allocated money will be dedicated to projects that dredge sediment from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers or from local bays, with $16 billion allocated to marsh creation projects, and $2.9 billion for land bridges – combinations of wetlands, ridges and above-water land – to be built across stretches of open water in the Barataria and Lafourche basins.[5]

The 2023 plan divides the coast into five segments, compared to the three regions used in the 2017 version, and outlines the issues specific to each region, the suite of selected projects, and the predicted impacts.[6] For example, the plan outlines the approach taken for the Chenier Plain, which is the southwest Louisiana coastal region that includes Lake Charles, the Mermentau Basin, White Lakes Wetlands Conservation Area, and Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge. 13 marsh creation projects and 2 hydrologic restoration projects were selected for implementation in the Chenier Plain to address the storm surge-based flood risks, high tide flooding, and drainage concerns experienced in this region.[7] In implementing these projects, the 2023 plan predicts that 23,000 acres of land will be built and maintained in this region under the lower environmental scenario.[8]

The next step for the 2023 draft involves public comment and feedback, including four public hearings scheduled for late January through mid-February.[9] Public comments may also be submitted through March 25, 2023, via email, regular mail, or in person at one of the upcoming public hearings. After the public comment period, the draft will be voted on by the CPRA Board and ultimately submitted to the Louisiana Legislature for a final vote.

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[1]    ;

[2]              Draft 2023 Coastal Master Plan, p. 92.

[3]              Draft 2023 Coastal Master Plan, p. 48.

[4]              This is in addition to smaller scale programmatic projects that address locally important issues such as shoreline protection, plantings, and small-scale hydrologic restoration.

[5]              Draft 2023 Coastal Master Plan, p. 75-76, Figure 5.1;

[6]              Draft 2023 Coastal Master Plan, p. 94-155, Chapter 6 – “Regional Approach.”

[7]              Draft 2023 Coastal Master Plan, p. 96-107.

[8]              Draft 2023 Coastal Master Plan, p. 106.

[9]              Public hearings scheduled: Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on January 31st; Houma, Louisiana, on February 2nd; New Orleans, Louisiana, on February 7th; Lake Charles, Louisiana, on February 16th.