Louisiana has engaged in coastal protection and restoration for decades. Since the creation of the Louisiana Advisory Commission in 1971, the state has gradually built its capacity for dealing with the problems that face the coast. Louisiana has established trust funds, agencies and even a recurring source of state revenue dedicated to coastal protection.
In so many policy areas, such as tax policy or higher education, citizens often wish they had a government system that looks like it was designed on purpose. In contrast, Louisiana’s coastal efforts generally have been thoughtful and managed with relative independence and objectivity. Perhaps this track record is a result of having so little funding for so long that not much other than planning could be undertaken.
The state now has reached a higher level of opportunity and responsibility. New offshore revenue sharing directed to Louisiana and funds from the BP civil, criminal and environmental damage penalties bring the funding for coastal projects to an order of magnitude larger than in the past. With more money comes more involvement by government, higher education, business and a variety of other stakeholders. Louisiana's coastal efforts will confront a higher profile and a greater need for accountability. The real work of coastal restoration has just begun.
The ultimate measures of success will be whether the state chose the most effective solutions and projects and implemented them correctly, resulting in a healthier and more sustainable coastal environment. Part of the state's process should be to assess and reassess the goals and to evaluate whether or not those goals are being achieved by the expensive projects undertaken.
Along the way, the decision-making process should be accountable and transparent. The public and stakeholders need to understand how decisions are made and by whom. The process should be fair to citizens, taxpayers, the public entities and the private companies taking part. This point is particularly vital given the cultural, environmental and economic importance of the coast. It is in that spirit of looking for every opportunity to maximize coastal preservation efforts that PAR has offered these recommendations. By improving governance and wisely investing coastal funding, the state can set a foundation with strong science and good engineering to rebuild Louisiana’s coast and earn the public's confidence.
The governor should ensure that the Executive Director and CPRA Chair will provide leadership and accountability so that the Master Plan and Annual Plans are developed and executed based on the intent of the governing laws and done so in a manner not driven by politics, but rather in the best interest of the state, based on the best available science and technology.
The governor and his administration should emphasize the development of a Coastal Master Plan that relies on the best science and engineering data available and avoid politicizing the decision-making process.
The governor and his administration should develop new models of stakeholder engagement that improve the transparency and communication with the public during the project development, selection and implementation phases. An effective stakeholder engagement model should improve communication and provide more information and means of providing the information in an easily understood manner resulting in a higher probability of project implementation success.
The governor and Legislature should avoid politicizing the existing approval process for the Master and Annual Plan in, specifically they should resist any efforts to change the “up or down” vote or any other changes that would invite politics into the planning and project selection process.
The coastal Annual Reports should include retrospective reporting and better tracking of expenditures and projections.
The governor and Legislature should institutionalize the practice of employing transparency in decision-making for coastal funding. This will be a test of leadership for the new governor. He will have to insulate coastal restoration and protection from a variety of political influences that could sidetrack restoration efforts.
CPRA should leverage the new IT system, LAGov, to improve transparency and real-time public reporting regarding the state’s investments in coastal restoration and protection. Further, the state should leverage Louisiana’s Transparency and Accountability (LA TRAC) portal and online state spending database by including CPRA expenditures and contracts on the portal. Currently, there are a significant number of vendors’ payments generated outside of the state’s systems and not defined on LA TRAC.
CPRA should explore opportunities to build capacity for Louisiana firms so that they can compete for this work as more dollars for coastal restoration and protection flow into the state.
As outlined in past PAR commentaries, the state’s practice of using the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund as a pass-through to balance the state’s operating budget should be stopped. The governor and Legislature should avoid raiding, supplanting, redirecting and using budget gimmicks that result in reducing the funding dedicated to and available for investing in coastal protection and restoration. With the RESTORE Act and other federally regulated programs comes a higher level of scrutiny as to how the funds are expended, as well as more stringent and frequent audits. Questioned costs are subject to recapture.
The governor should ensure that Louisiana maintains a vigilant leadership role within the RESTORE Council and NRDA Trustee Council.
The governor should ensure that the Act is carried out as intended and advocate that the protection and restoration of Louisiana’s coast is in the nation’s best interest. As such, the governor should urge the RESTORE Council to:
Consider establishing a project specific comprehensive plan, instead of the process of creating the first funding priority list, to fulfill the intent of the law;
Adopt a process similar to the CPRA decision-making process based on science, transparency and public input not politics or equal distribution; and,
Make specific recommendations that will facilitate the expeditious and efficient implementation of the projects in Coastal Louisiana. This Council has the authority to make such recommendations and should do so to ensure the projects are implemented in the most efficient manner.
The governor should foster and maintain a relationship with the Executive Office of the President and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for the purposes of expediting federal permitting, and identifying and executing regulatory best practices in an effort to expedite Louisiana’s Master Plan.
Explore the concept of a constitutional amendment to clarify the governor’s limitations for taking these dollars.
The new Governor and his Administration should explore all avenues to renegotiate the HSDRRS cost share payments. Further, if it is determined that the state must repay the debt, the federal government should provide the necessary cost information so that CPRA can verify the amount owed and also ensure that the state does not pay any interest accrued for the amount of time that the US Army Corps of Engineers spent building the system.
The Governor, Legislature and local governing authorities should develop a plan for the HSDRRS cost share payments.
The Coastal Protection and Restoration Financing Corporation should begin to explore the best opportunities to secure and leverage the anticipated GOMESA revenues. Factors such as the critical rate of land loss, the cost of construction inflation, and the cost savings for quicker implementation of certain projects should be carefully analyzed to determine the best financing options. It would make sense for the Financing Corporation to also explore how to best leverage all revenue streams, including the existing and anticipated RESTORE Act funding to implement the Master Plan; however, the legislation that established the Financing Corporation may need to be amended to include this additional scope of work.
The Governor’s Advisory Commission on Coastal Restoration and Protection should reengage in the work called for by House Concurrent Resolution No. 144 of the 2012 Regular Legislative Session, to analyze the funding opportunities available for the Master Plan. This work should be used to inform the Coastal Protection and Restoration Financing Corporation.
The Administration should continue the state matching program to leverage RESTORE Act funding through the RESTORE State-Parish Matching Program in an effort to encourage local governing authorities to use these funds for coastal protection and restoration and avoid diverting the funds for other use. Further, the state should consider the feasibility of implementing this policy for GOMESA funding.
Local governing authorities should ensure that the decision-making and procurement process for allocating and investing the funds are done in a transparent manner that includes public input.
Further, there needs to be an auditing process established to ensure that the funds are spent how they are intended to be spent, especially for the GOMESA and significant new funding streams.
The CPRA should require that local governing authorities enter into an agreement with the state to provide for operation and maintenance of these assets.
If feasible, the CPRA should develop guidance for the coastal parishes and provide technical assistance, as needed. This assistance should not only be limited to helping each parish implement projects, but ensuring that the projects work together as a cohesive unit. As long as parishes stick closely to the projects outlined in the Master Plan, coordination between parishes becomes less of a problem.