Wetlands at stake. (Photo courtesy of ACOE)
An ambitious $2-billion
plan to stem Louisianas massive loss of wetlands along
the Gulf Coast is nearing approval by the chief of the Army
Corps of Engineers. But even after the program, one of the
largest environmental efforts in the Corps history,
takes that step forward, it will have to wait in line until
at least sometime next year for any significant work to begin.
The reason: Congress has yet to approve a water resources
bill to authorize new Corps projects around the country including
the federal governments $1.2-billion federal share toward
the Louisiana coastal plan.
"The near-term big hurdle
is actually passing a water resources development act,"
says Dominic Izzo, vice president in DMJM + Harris Houston
office. "Hopefully the new Congress will attend to this
Even if lawmakers move swiftly
on the water resources measure, the Louisiana coast plan isnt
home free in Washington. "The real question is on the
appropriations side," notes another industry source.
The Corps already has a $11-billion backlog of authorized
projects. Adding the Louisiana work to the mix will only make
the dogfight for fiscal 2006 appropriations fiercer.
As they gear up for that tussle,
the Louisiana restorations advocates argue that their
situation has national importance. Troy Constance, chief of
the coastal restoration branch in the Corps New Orleans
District, says Louisiana has 90% of the nations wetlands
acreage "and we are suffering most of the loss in the
country." The Corps Louisiana
Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration Study, the report
its chief will review, shows the vastness of the problem.
Mostly because of human activity, including channelization
and flood-controlling levees, Louisianas coast has lost
more than 1.2 million acres of land since the 1930s. The rate
of wetlands loss has slowed, but 6,600 acres still are estimated
to disappear annually through 2050.
"The goal of the plan is to
reverse the current trend of degradation of the coast,"
says Dan Hitchings, head of regional business for the Corps
Mississippi Valley Division. "Were really looking
to stop the land loss, in simple terms."
Wetlands have multifaceted values.
Besides sheltering wildlife, they support more than $300 million
in commercial fishing, plus $1 billion in recreational fishing
and hunting. Wetlands also are flood buffers, protecting industrial