Zeringue takes state’s coastal reins as Graves departs
17th February 2014 · 0 Comments
By Susan Buchanan
Houma native Jerome Zeringue, known as Zee, starts as chairman of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority this week, and replaces Garret Graves–who resigned after six years in office. Zeringue’s old position will be filled by deputy director Kyle Graham. The state’s coastal needs are relentless, and CPRA is implementing projects under its $50 billion, 2012 Master Plan. The agency is using funds from the feds, the state and some spill-related commitments from BP while it waits for more money from the oil firm, Zeringue said last week.
CPRA was formed in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina struck the year before. Governor Bobby Jindal appointed Graves as the agency’s head in January 2008. Zeringue, a former director of the Terrebonne Levee and Conservation District, joined Jindal’s Office of Coastal Activities in May 2008 as policy and programs director. He was soon named CPRA’s deputy executive director.
Last week, Zeringue discussed what he faces as incoming head. “Obviously, the challenge is to continue the good work that Garret, this administration and CPRA’s capable staff have started,” he said. “We’ll continue to work on implementing the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, and will address the many serious issues involving land loss and coastal protection, restoration and sustainability. We face great challenges that clearly can’t be solved within one administration.”
The problems of subsidence and sea level rise require continued dedication from many entities, Zeringue said. The coastal situation is dynamic and uncertain. “We’ll need a wholesale effort to develop a sustainable ecosystem and reduce our vulnerabilities,” he said. “I know that Garret will do everything he can to work with us and help us out in whatever he chooses to do in the future.”
As for CPRA’s priorities, “every year we update our Fiscal Year Annual Plan, outlining projects in the pipeline for the next three fiscal years, and send it to the Louisiana legislature for approval,” Zeringue said. “This is our plan of action. It charts our progress in accomplishing the projects, programs and goals outlined in the 50-year Coastal Master Plan.” By following a master plan outline, CPRA has done more in five years to address the coastal situation than the state did in all previous decades, he said.
“We will continue to improve hurricane protection around New Orleans, we’ll continue the berms to barriers project, older CDBG or Community Development Block Grant projects, oil spill projects and other large-scale basin projects that are in the master plan, along with projects that are compatible with its goals and principles,” he said.
Zeringue said the master plan emphasizes the use of adaptive management techniques to implement coastal projects. “Adaptive management gives us the flexibility to apply lessons learned, to improve on our successes, and to learn from and minimize our mistakes,” he said.
He discussed money from BP. “Damage done by the BP spill set back coastal restoration in Louisiana,” he said. “We’re using funds that BP has already committed toward restoration and implementation of master plan projects. However, we aren’t relying solely on BP. We’re utilizing funds from over a dozen sources, including the state, CWPPRA, CIAP, CDBG and GoMESA for project implementation.”
The latter refers, respectively, to these federal sources: Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA); Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP); Community Development Block Grant (CDBG); and the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 (GoMESA).
“We are also advancing planning and design of projects to have them shovel ready when funding becomes available,” Zeringue said.
What funds does the state expect to receive for the 2010 spill? Louisiana was granted $67.9 million for projects to improve marine and coastal ecosystems and habitats harmed by the spill, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation said in November. That money is from agreements between BP, Transocean and the U.S. Dept. of Justice to settle certain, spill-related criminal charges, and it was the first dedication of those particular funds–which should total $2.54 billion to the Gulf states over five years.
The Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustees this winter proposed $627 million for early restoration projects across the Gulf, including $340 million for Louisiana as part of $1 billion that BP agreed to pay for rehabbing spill-damaged, natural resources.
Louisiana will receive a share of the penalties expected to be levied against BP for violating the federal Clean Water Act. Under the federal RESTORE Act, 80 percent of fines will be distributed among five Gulf Coast states and two federal agencies, and at least a third of that pot will go to Louisiana. Based on barrels of oil spilled, BP and its drilling partners could face fines in the tens of billions of dollars.
Federal Judge Carl Barbier will set a date for the third part of a spill trial, to be held sometime this year in New Orleans, that will determine CWA penalties against BP.
CPRA this year has sought comments on a draft of the state’s Fiscal Year 2015 plan for rebuilding and protecting the coast, and last month held three related, public meetings across the state. A public comment period on the plan ends on February 19, and a final plan will be presented to the state legislature for approval in March. For more on the 2015 plan and how to submit your views, visit http://coastal.la.gov/annualplan/ on the web.
This article originally published in the February 17, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.