The State of Louisiana is suffering nationally unprecedented land loss along its coast, losing an average of a football field of land every ninety minutes. Since 1930, Louisiana has lost over 1800 square miles of its coastal area. Since the lost coastal area traditionally absorbed storm surges, this loss of land has increased Louisiana’s vulnerability to hurricanes and other storm events. In response to this rapid loss, Louisiana has made coastal restoration a top priority by approving the 2017 Coastal Master Plan for preservation and restoration. Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) is responsible for developing and executing the Master Plan, which includes well over 100 protection and restoration projects over a 50 year period at a projected cost of $50 billion, with the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion Project as a cornerstone of the Coastal Master Plan. Louisiana will be paying for the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion Project with funds available to it from sources other than federal appropriations. This first major sediment diversion project attempts to return to our lost coastal areas, which are now often open water, silt-laden Mississippi River water that was cut-off from our coastal areas after the Mississippi was leveed beginning in 1930. Due to the rapid rate of land loss, it is critical that projects related to the Master Plan receive all required federal permits in a streamlined manner.
In late January, 2018, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards announced that an agreement had been reached between the State of Louisiana and the federal agencies involved in permitting and environmental authorizations to speed the permitting of the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion Project, perhaps the largest environmental restoration project being planned in the United States.
The agreement is the first such agreement between a state and the federal government to expedite an infrastructure project under the FAST-Act, which was enacted in 2015 to expedite the permitting of infrastructure projects. The agreement is also the first agreement to effectuate the President’s August 2017 Executive Order 13807, which adopts a two-year goal for permitting infrastructure projects under the FAST Act.
Van Ness Feldman negotiated this ground-breaking agreement for the State, helping the CPRA navigate the complex federal permitting processes, including several Clean Water Act approvals, environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and in developing a strategy to expedite the permitting process pursuant to the FAST Act and Executive Order 13807. We are also assisting CPRA, as a member of the Louisiana Trustee Implementation Group, to secure funds from the Deepwater Horizon settlement, and are providing government relations expertise to secure funding pathways from relevant federal agencies.
In addition to the Mid-Barataria agreement with the Executive Branch of the federal government, the Van Ness Feldman team successfully procured a legislative waiver of some aspects of the Marine Mammal Protection Act that would have applied to three of the state’s Master Plan project and actually could have prevented these coastal restoration projects. The legislative waiver became effective on March 15, 2018.
In early 2019, the Louisiana Coastal Restoration Authority approached the federal government with a request that a second sediment diversion project, the Mid-Breton Sediment Diversion Project, be afforded expedited permitting under the FAST-Act. The firm is representing the CPRA before federal agencies on this project.