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CPRA Board Meeting in Review, June 2018

June 22, 2018

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The June 2018 CPRA Board meeting marked a milestone in CPRA history with the Board passing a resolution authorizing the filing of a lawsuit against Plaquemines Parish if, by June 29, the parish government refuses to permit soil borings in the west bank levee of the Mississippi River near Ironton. The purpose of the borings is to determine site suitability for a proposed sediment diversion.

“We have no animus towards Plaquemines Parish,” said Chairman Johnny Bradberry, “but we have an obligation to the people of Louisiana to pursue projects that have the greatest potential to sustain our ability to continue living and working here. We believe sediment diversions in Plaquemines Parish and other areas are vital to the future of Louisiana and the protection of populated areas in Southeast Louisiana.”

Plaquemines Parish President Amos Cormier used public comment periods to state his objections and to submit to the board documents and studies he says counter CPRA’s ongoing efforts. Chairman Bradberry accepted the documents and thanked Cormier for their submittal.

“There is an EIS, an Environmental Impact Study, that must be done,” said Bradberry. “CPRA doesn’t do that study; the Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies do that. They’ll study impacts on commercial and recreational fisheries, and everything from shrimp, oysters, crabs and fin fish to navigation, flooding, cultural resources, marine mammals, sea turtles, social and economic impacts and water quality, to name just some of what they’re investigating. There are at least 70 environmental laws CPRA must comply with.”

If CPRA doesn’t comply with those laws, the project permit will not be issued and will not advance to construction, Bradberry said. He added that the public will have an opportunity to comment on the draft EIS, and CPRA will be required to address, monitor, and manage significant negative impacts of the project through avoidance, minimization, or mitigation, in accordance with existing environmental laws.

“The soil boring data will help inform the public as to the project impact, both positive and negative, and will help to inform the decisions as how to avoid, minimize, or mitigate negative impacts,” said CPRA Operations Assistant Administrator Brad Barth.

Outcome-Based Performance Contracting
The CPRA Board also voted to take the next step in its efforts to involve the private sector in accomplishing coastal marsh and ridge restoration projects.

“We call it Outcome-Based Performance Contracting,” said CPRA Senior Executive Engineer Robert Routon. “This would have a private investor or contractor put up the money, perform the work, successfully accomplish the project, and then get repaid over time by CPRA.”

CPRA would provide payments only upon the contractor successfully meeting the specified and contracted outcome, goal, or output, and payments may be structured over a longer period of time than traditional delivery methods.

“Projects must be eligible for funding through the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damages Fund, which we will plan to use for project payments,” said Routon, “so this process will be contingent upon meeting all requirements, including completing restoration planning and obtaining all required approvals of the Louisiana Trustee Implementation Group, which is initially focused on the Barataria Basin.”

“Hopefully Outcome-Based Performance Contracting can add to our efforts by unleashing the magic of the private sector,” said Bradberry.

CPRA Implementation Update
CPRA Executive Director Michael Ellis reported that CPRA currently has 71 active projects, including 21 in construction, 45 in Engineering and Design, and five in the Planning stage.

“This represents great news and progress for the state,” said Ellis. “Implementation of these projects will improve more than 184 miles of levee and benefit almost 108,000 acres of coastal habitat—that about 168 square miles.”

Ellis highlighted the Caillou Lake Headland Project just completed. This was a $118 million barrier island completely paid for with NRDA restoration funds. The island, best known as Whiskey Island, is located 18 miles southwest of Cocodrie in Terrebonne Parish. Approximately 732 acres of beach and dune were restored along the six-mile stretch using sand dredged from Ship Shoal. That material was also used to create another 170 acres of marsh for a total of 902 acres of barrier island and marsh habitat. Vegetative plantings are scheduled for October.

HSDRRS and USACE – good news on additional funding
Colonel Michael Clancy, Commander of the New Orleans Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, reported some good news on additional funding coming to Louisiana for coastal and flood-related projects. The Corps received $203 million in supplemental funding to address damages sustained during Hurricane Harvey and other natural disasters. And the New Orleans District believes additional flood and storm damage projects in South Louisiana meet the criteria necessary to compete for the remaining supplemental funding and are awaiting the final determination.

The Corps’ Work Plan for the current fiscal year includes a budgetary augmentation of $154 million for the New Orleans District. This funding will go to advance studies on the Calcasieu Lock, the New Orleans Industrial Canal (IHNC) Lock Replacement and the long-awaited plan that could realize $820 million in projects in Southwest Louisiana. The Comite River Diversion project was identified to receive $14 million, and $16 million is for construction in the Atchafalaya Basin. The remainder is going to needed operations and maintenance on existing projects and programs.

The colonel also addressed the misunderstanding of the Corps’ “unacceptable” evaluation recently given to New Orleans area levees.

“When we use the terms acceptable, minimally acceptable and unacceptable, we are referencing the levee inspection process, not the levees themselves,” he explained. “We found no unacceptable systems in the Greater New Orleans area. The probability of New Orleans flooding from hurricane surge is the lowest it has ever been.” However, Clancy added that a storm greater than a 100-year storm could still overtop the system.

New Orleans East and West Flood Authorities in good shape
Now that voters have approved a property tax to support the levee system, Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-West Regional Director John Monzon said the authority now has the funding necessary to perform all required Operation, Maintenance, Repair, Rehabilitation and Replacement.

“In fact, we are raising levees to higher-than-required elevations,” Monzon said, “and we are doing it prior to armoring of those levees.”

Derek Boese, Chief Administrative Officer for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, said the portion of the HSDRRS on the east bank has been greatly enhanced by the recent completion of the new permanent canal closure pump stations at the 17th Street, Orleans and London Avenue canals.

“In all we have 200 miles of improved levees and floodwalls, 11 closure structures and 244 land-based gates,” Boese reported. “We have people out there working 24/7, and we are committed to our mission of seeing that the people of New Orleans on the east bank are safe when the water comes.”

2018 Hurricane Season Update
Meteorologist Frank Revitte with the National Weather Service said there is potential for an El Nino event in the Pacific Ocean that could have an impact on tropical activity, especially later this summer into early fall. NOAA will issue an updated outlook in early August as we enter the peak of Hurricane Season.

The current outlook indicates this year’s tropical storm activity could be slightly higher than average with 14 to 16 named storms, 7 to 9 hurricanes, and 3 to 4 major hurricanes.

Revitte reminded everyone that the biggest destruction is caused by storm surge and flooding, and the National Weather Service is providing more timely information and better graphics to forewarn the public.