NEW ORLEANS — A state advisory committee is studying the changes and importance of Louisiana’s coastal areas to increase awareness of challenges ahead.
The Governor’s Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration and Conservation met Wednesday to discuss researchers’ progress on studies to be released in 2015.
“It’s important for the U.S. and Washington to understand the losses whether you’re dealing with oil and gas, whether you’re dealing with fishing, navigation,” commission Chairman R. King Milling said. “The implications that even go up to the central part of this country are staggering, and it’s important for us as objectively as we can to get our minds around what is the real cost to this country, the states going up the Mississippi River and what’s the cost to this area.”
Researchers are examining shifts in population, employment and natural resources among other areas.
“The Louisiana coast is a place of constant change. Nothing about this coast has been static,” said Craig Colten, director of human dimensions at the Water Institute of the Gulf that’s working on a study titled “The Louisiana Coastal Atlas: A Place of Constant Change.”
So far, Colten and his colleagues have noted people moving away from the coast.
“The coast itself has a relatively light population,” he said. “Resettlement has been a fundamental part of the adaptation of people in coastal areas. They’ve survived in part because of their willingness to relocate. They have moved inland to persist, and that’s the factor of their coastal resilience.”
Devastating hurricanes have prompted significant movement from the coast in recent decades, he said. Some of the data gathered will show how specific industries have changed over the years. For example, fishing over the past century has changed from small family businesses to more industrial operations, which has meant drastic changes in coastal fisheries.
Colten said the ability to combine scientific data with social and economic data will allow for a greater understanding about how communities along the coast have been so resilient.
“We can really use this information to help guide decisions on how to best manage the coast. I just want to remind you that you really can’t have a successful economy if you don’t have that society in place to build that economy,” he said.
Milling used an example of what can happen when a long-term coast protection plan isn’t put into place.
Hurricane Betsy hit New Orleans in 1965 and flooded nearly the same area that flooded during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. By 1970, the government had created a 500-year protection plan.
“Five years later we forgot about that. And 40 years later, Katrina hits,” Milling said. “That needs to be put in front of people to know this isn’t just theoretical.”
Commission member Alan Front said the federal government tends to react to problems rather than looking to avoid them.
“Washington tends not to buy an insurance policy. They deal with the claims,” he said. “It’s just a Band-Aid. When it comes to long-term plans, it tends not to happen.”
Stephen Barnes, director of LSU Division of Economic Development, spoke at the meeting about the economic impact study the division and the RAND Corp. are completing.
Its focus is economic activity and assets and characterizing what’s at risk along the coast. The study will also define Louisiana’s economic impact on the nation.
Barnes said the starting point was a map that shows the concentration of employment in the state. This includes information about the location of businesses, how many workers are employed at each and the size of the facilities.
Another objective for the study is to identify land lost. A question the study seeks to answer is how many properties could be lost if no action is taken.
“We are going to be looking at a 25-year and a 50-year horizon. Each of those will have a moderate and least optimistic option,” Barnes said.
Milling suggested thinking about what would happen if Port Fourchon, a service hub for the Gulf oilfield, had to close for a month and what that would mean for the area and nation’s economies.