Important Factor for Voters
by Kea Sherman
This week, I took a pause from politics to take Hayden to see the remake of the Lion King. For many, this brings back memories of the catchy soundtrack and the movie’s theme – the Circle of Life. The basic idea is that we are all interconnected – whatever affects you will ultimately touch me and vice versa. While writing this week’s message about our coast, this theme resurfaced. After traveling around the state over the past few years helping to launch two organizations, I’ve come to appreciate Louisiana’s cultural diversity on a new level. Each city and town has its own culture, traditions, dialect and style of gumbo (I prefer mine with potato salad).
Even with all of our differences, certain situations, or circumstances remind us that we are all in this together. Our Louisiana coastline serves as a powerful force uniting our state economically, culturally and strategically. Local economies are connected by a network of 32 ports that ship cargo, service the oil and gas industry and are used by the commercial fishing industry. Unfortunately, we now find ourselves battling a sinking coastline due to natural and man-made subsidence. In the past, this process was offset by new sediment when the Mississippi River overflowed. Since the construction of levees along the river, the natural replenishment of sediment no longer occurs while the wetlands continue to sink. This growing threat is exacerbated by sea level rise. GNO, Inc. summed it up best, “Coastal land loss is undoubtedly the pressing existential crisis threatening Louisiana’s economy, culture and historical way of life.” See link below.
A sense of urgency following Hurricane Katrina prompted the authorization of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) to lead state efforts to restore and protect the Louisiana coastline. CPRA oversees the Coastal Master Plan, which currently recommends 124 restoration, protection and risk reduction projects over the next fifty years. The Coastal Master Plan combines projects that restore, build and maintain coastal wetlands aimed at reducing flood risks for coastal communities. Katrina reminded us that our once healthy wetlands served as a powerful barrier to storm surge. The plan includes a few projects that will affect New Orleans and the surrounding areas including the Central Wetlands, the Golden Triangle and the New Orleans East Land Bridge.
The New Orleans East Land Bridge is not just a priority project of the city, but for the entire Lake Pontchartrain area. This large-scale marsh creation project, located in eastern New Orleans, is located in an eroding series of marshland separating Lake Pontchartrain from Lake Borgne. The Corps has identified the land bridge as a critical feature that serves as a crucial line of defense from storm surge for nearly 1.5 million people in eight parishes, including the cities of New Orleans, LaPlace, Madisonville, Mandeville and Slidell. Like many of the projects included in the Coastal Master Plan, the majority of the New Orleans East Land Bridge has not yet been funded. Money from the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) has been used to complete only a few small components.
Early in my legal career, I had the unique opportunity to work on Hurricane Katrina litigation. Serving as a member of the Norman Robinson v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers trial team, we filed a class action on behalf of plaintiffs for Katrina related damages caused by the Corps’ negligent maintenance and operation of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (known as the MRGO). My work on the MRGO case spanned a number of years providing me with an extensive education on our city’s hurricane protection and levee systems, the ongoing battle against coastal erosion/ loss of wetlands due to subsidence and saltwater intrusion and the resulting loss of our natural hurricane protection barrier.
Should we fail to make significant headway in rebuilding our coast over the next ten years, experts anticipate a dramatic realignment of the lower part of the Mississippi River that would bring the mouth of the river almost to the city. Not only would this affect our people’s property and livelihoods, but much of the country’s bulk cargo passes through the mouth of the Mississippi River. These undesirable alterations would affect the reliability of our shipping industry, impacting energy, agriculture and many other sectors. We should continue to work with our state and Congressional leaders to secure funding through federal programs such as the RESTORE Act, GOMESA, and CWPPRA, and seek new opportunities for funding.
This brings me back to the Lion King. We must work together if we want to protect our shared values and way of life, so that future generations might enjoy them. Time, however, is not on our side. We are at a critical juncture where we must elect new leaders, who can effectively advocate about complex issues and treat them with the sense of urgency they deserve.
Kea Sherman is currently a candidate for the Louisiana House of Representatives for District 98