Call for immediate funding of Louisiana's approved restoration plans
NEW ORLEANS, July 27 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In an open letter to Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, published in today's editions of Roll Call, Politico, Times-Picayune, and The Baton Rouge Advocate, the America's WETLAND Foundation (AWF) was joined by prominent environmental and conservation organizations in applauding his recent visit to the Gulf region to listen to those closest to the Deepwater Horizon disaster and who have been a part of restoration planning for many years.
The ad -- taken out by the America's WETLAND Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, the National Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited, National Audubon Society, and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana -- points out that plans to divert fresh water and sediment from the Mississippi River back into the marshes have already been authorized by Congress but lack the necessary federal funding and requests Secretary Mabus to call for immediate funding and implementation of those plans.
"Secretary Mabus' commitment that recovery plans should come from within the region itself is welcomed," said R. King Milling, chairman of AWF. "Louisiana has a master plan for coastal restoration and protection unanimously approved by the Legislature, as well as Congressional authorizations, that sit idly without funding. Acting on these plans, especially those that reconnect the river to the wetlands, is what is needed now."
Mabus and Assistant Secretary of the Interior Tom Strickland toured the Louisiana coast and met with restoration leaders recently, with Strickland noting that the federal government plans to go beyond just restoring the coast to what it looked like before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and began leaking millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf. "Our imperative is greater than that," said Strickland. "We know there was a crisis in the Gulf prior to what happened April 20."
Mabus said his role was clearly defined. "The President has given me a very specific task," Mabus said. "When this well is capped, and the cleanup is done, then what? What do we do to make this coast whole?"
The entire country benefits from the energy generated by offshore drilling. The Gulf Coast shouldn't take the hit alone," Mabus said.
The letter to Mabus notes that leveeing of the Mississippi River deprived the marshes of fresh water and nutrients and led to the dramatic loss of land since the 1930's. According to the ad, "America's WETLAND is on life support and needs urgent care. Restoration is key to real recovery."
The letter calls for specific steps to reverse this trend toward environmental and economic calamity:
- Accelerate OCS revenue sharing to Gulf producing states for coastal restoration.
- Fund Immediately construction of already-authorized projects to reconnect the Mississippi River with its Delta wetlands and restore crucial barrier islands.
- Establish a dedicated long-term funding stream sufficient for coastal restoration.
- Ensure that a significant percentage of the penalty monies to be paid by BP is dedicated to coastal restoration as reparations for the contamination of thousands of acres of coastal marsh that cannot be cleaned up.
- Cut red tape to allow immediate distribution of existing Federal appropriations for restoration, including more than $1 billion in Coastal Impact Assistance Funds for coastal states.
- Put in place a Federal-state authority with the capacity, the will, and the resources to get the job of restoration done in time to build on existing land and prevent land loss rates that will exponentially increase without action.
Larry Schweiger, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, said, "A major effort to restore the Mississippi Delta is the single most important way to make this region whole again. The survival of this region's productive fisheries, its abundant wildlife habitat and its hardworking coastal communities hinges on healthy, regenerative wetlands along Louisiana's coast."
Brian McPeek, North America Regional Managing Director of the Nature Conservancy, agreed. "The world has been shown the importance of these marshes to Gulf fish and wildlife. These are lands of worldwide ecological significance that we cannot allow to disappear. Our species' sustenance, livelihoods, economies and well-being are absolutely dependent on healthy, functioning ecosystems – especially these Mississippi River wetlands," McPeek said.
Other coastal advocates said there is urgency for immediate federal action.
"Years of hard work have resulted in a comprehensive plan to restore coastal Louisiana and that is the perfect place to start the critical work of restoring our coast, our culture and our way of life," said Steven Peyronnin, Executive Director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. Dale Hall, former director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and head of Ducks Unlimited, added, "Restoring the rich Mississippi Delta is critical to the health of the river system and the habitat it supports for migratory waterfowl. We have precious little time to waste before we severely impact one of the planet's most important flyways."
Paul Kemp, Director of the National Audubon Society's Louisiana Coastal Initiative of the National Audubon Society noted years of work by his organization to protect coastal wetlands. "Once we lose these natural resources, they cannot be replaced. We encourage Secretary Mabus to move quickly and apply strong scientific solutions immediately to restoring this coastal region," Kemp said.
Valsin A. Marmillion, Managing Director of the America's WETLAND Foundation, said fast action is mandatory. "Louisiana's wetlands have been on life support for a long time now," Marmillion said. "If we don't act very quickly, the loss of these ecologically significant lands will be a sad chapter of American history. It would be a tragedy of the highest order."
David Yarnold, Executive Director of the Environmental Defense Fund, also called for quick action. "Two days in the Gulf of Mexico left me enraged – and deeply resolved," Yarnold said. "Louisiana's wetlands have been washing away for decades before this oil washed ashore. To bring them back to health, we must fund and expedite restoration plans. We have the science; we need action – and quickly."
America's WETLAND Foundation is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that has acted as a neutral arbiter for coastal interests since its inception in 2002, elevating issues facing the Gulf Coast, specifically those of coastal land loss, to regional and national attention. For more information visit www.americaswetland.org
SOURCE America’s WETLAND Foundation