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Corps Seeks Help To Scale Down Plan
April 10, 2004

Release from:
Mark Schleifstein
Times-Picayune (Louisiana)

The Army Corps of Engineers will hold a series of hearings this month to ask the public how to choose projects to be included in a revised coastal restoration program.

The federal-state Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration Plan is being downsized at the request of White House advisory agencies, including the Office of Management & Budget and the Council for Environmental Quality.

Federal and state officials had been working on a 30-year, comprehensive restoration effort.

But the White House ordered the project to be restricted to the first 10 years, focusing on coastal areas needing the most attention, increasing emphasis on improving the science and technology needed to build restoration projects, and recognizing budget constraints.

The corps hopes to have a completed environmental report and a list of demonstration projects that would be presented to Congress late this summer or fall in support of between $1 billion to $2 billion that would be included in the 2004 Water Resources Development Act. Additional hearings will be held after the project list is announced.

The public will be asked for three types of comments.

The first type will seek to define what critical natural and human ecological needs the study should address. The corps expects comments to include the physical processes involved in creating river deltas; the ability of the new coastline to sustain itself over many years; the need to consider hurricane and flood protection; and protection of buildings, roads and other infrastructure in the design and placement of the projects.

The second type of comments will explore which natural and human resources affected by restoration projects should be considered in the environmental study. Here, the corps expects comments to include the relationship between projects and the "dead zone," an area of low-oxygen that forms in Gulf of Mexico waters along the coast each spring and summer; the need for rebuilding old barrier islands or new islands and headlands; the use of offshore sand resources, such as Ship Shoal off the state's western coastline, in building restoration projects; and the effects of introducing Mississippi River water on existing water quality in wetlands and along the coast.

With the third set of comments, the corps wants help fine-tuning a set of nine criteria that each project should meet before being included in the plan submitted to Congress:

-- Will it prevent or reduce future land loss?

-- Will it mimic the historic delta-building cycle of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers and their tributaries?

-- Will it be sustainable, by restoring or maintaining barrier islands, beach and lake rims, natural ridges created by tributaries, or other features that will protect interior wetlands or other land masses?

-- Can engineering and design of the project be completed and construction started within 10 years?

-- Will it protect vital local, regional and national community and socioeconomic resources?

-- Will it be acceptable to the public?

-- Is it based on accurate science and engineering?

-- Does it capitalize on existing structures and resources, such as expanding an existing water diversion or locating near a source of sediment or sand?

-- Will it block other projects?

The corps scoping hearings will be April 19, Houma Municipal Auditorium, 800 Verret St.; April 20, Belle Chasse Auditorium, 8398 Highway 23; April 21, Morgan City Auditorium, 728 Myrtle St.; April 22, Lake Charles Civic Center, 900 Lakeshore Drive; April 23, USGS National Wetlands Research Center, 700 Cajundome Blvd., Lafayette.

Comments on the scoping process can be sent to William P. Klein, Jr., CEMVN-PM-RS, P.O. Box 60267, New Orleans, LA 70160-0267; or faxed to (504) 862-1892.

General comments on any aspect of the Louisiana Coastal Area proposal can be submitted on the Web at www.lca.gov/lcasurveyfeb.asp.

For information on the Louisiana Coastal Area plan, go to www.lca.gov.