Coastal erosion panel

May 24th, 2011 | By | Category: News

St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro spoke at the press conference held during the America’s Energy Coast Conference in Belle Chasse. Taffaro (left), along with Plaquemines Parish President William “Billy” Nungesser (middle) heard the recommendations of scientists, such as Dr. Robert Twilley (right) on how to solve the problem of Louisiana’s eroding coast.

From 1930 to the year 2000, coastal Louisiana lost over 1,500 square miles of marsh land, and the data presented by the panel at the America’s Wetland Foundation Conference indicates an additional 513 square miles will be lost by 2050.

The conference held on May 16 in the Belle Chasse Auditorium showcased local leaders and keen scientific minds, who discussed the various solutions to the ever shrinking coast.

“When we prepare any solution, we have to consider it in the systemic context, and we have to consider local implications of system level solutions,” said Dr. Denise Reid, who spoke before the panel as part of the science panel. Reid, from the University of New Orleans and the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Sciences, made it clear that the panel was talking about more than just land loss. It is oysters, it is agriculture, and it is people.

“Basically water levels rise and people leave the coast,” Reid said.

“If we all left Louisiana, and left the levees, mother nature would pretty much takes care of the Coast. What this is about, it’s about people,” Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach commented.

St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro attended the panel meeting on behalf of his parish, which was also honored as a Blue Ribbon Community when it comes to coastal restoration.

“There is no silver bullet,” said Taffaro.

“We talk about multiple lines of defense, this [plan] is multiple lines of offense,” Taffaro said, referring to recommendations of the panel.

The panel heard recommendations for using the natural course of the Mississippi River, and use that flow to build up, by using the sediment deposits the river carries. Another idea involved planting in the surrounding barrier lands with more than just marsh. A forested ridge of cypress trees along the dredged barrier islands would increase protection and possibly lift some areas to 100 year flood protection.

As Dr. Joseph Sahayda, Director of the Hurricane Center, Louisiana State University, explained to the panel, marsh vegetation is too flexible and lets some surge pass, however the trees will sustain heavy damage with the impact they take, so it will be necessary to create a sustainable plan if implemented.

“If we don’t grow sustainable vegetation, all the sediment will just wash away,” said panel member Ken Savastano. Savastano stressed that sediment was only half the battle, that controlling the salinity of the water is also a factor. But other panel members, including Reid, said that salinity is variable in the rivers and waters of the coast, changing almost in a blink by environmental standards.

No matter the final recommendation that is made by the panel, and makes its way to President Obama’s desk, the overall message was delivered most poignantly by R. King Milling, chairman of America’s Wetland Foundation, when he said, “If we do nothing, then everyone in this room loses everything.”

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