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Mar 22, 2012 6:26 AM by AP

With tweaks, coastal plan heads to La. lawmakers

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A $50 billion, 50-year proposal aimed at stopping coastal land loss in Louisiana was approved unanimously Wednesday by a governor's panel and moved on to the state Legislature.

The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority approved a series of changes to a draft report issued in January, but the basic strategies of the original plan were retained: river diversions to create land and new levee systems to protect coastal communities.

David Muth of the National Wildlife Federation called the plan a major accomplishment. "If we don't restore the delta, we're done for. There won't be any coastal communities, including New Orleans."

The plan now moves on to the state Legislature for its approval.

Funding the plan remains uncertain. But Gov. Bobby Jindal's coastal team says the state has a good chance of getting $50 billion over the next 50 years from a variety of sources, including offshore oil and natural gas drilling royalties, federal environmental programs and from what BP PLC may be forced to pay in fines and ecosystem restoration for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill.

Several changes were approved by the CPRA Wednesday, based on concerns heard at public hearings.

Due to opposition from fishermen, the plan now specifies that up to half of the Mississippi River's flow will be diverted only when the river is running at its peak flow. Fishermen have long complained that river diversions hurt fisheries.

Also, state planners now say they want to better study a proposed levee system around Lake Charles and a storm surge barrier at Lake Pontchartrain. Another change is a decision to accelerate construction of a new levee system around Lafitte, a fishing town outside New Orleans that regularly floods. The plan also calls for adding a flood control structure at Bayou Chene near Morgan City to protect against river flooding. The revised plan also shifted or scrapped several smaller projects across the coast.

With the changes, the plan envisions creating up to 800 square miles of land over the next five decades, a decrease of about 70 square miles from the draft plan. Still, the plan if carried out foresees an end to land loss in about 30 years. If nothing is done to stem the rising seas and land loss, the plan predicts the state would lose 1,756 square miles over that time.

Much of the new land, the plan says, would be built by opening up diversions on the Mississippi River and the Atchafalaya River to flush sediment and freshwater into marshlands now sinking and eroding. Also, it calls for building new ridges, pumping sediment into eroded marshes, building new shorelines and shoring up coastal spots that have fallen apart.

Since the 1930s, the state's coast has lost about 1,900 square miles, an area larger than Rhode Island. Louisiana's delta, created by the Mississippi River, has been falling apart because of levees on the Mississippi, oil drilling and other causes.

Since the 1990s, the federal and state governments have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on coastal restoration, but those efforts have not stopped land loss and the White House has backed plans for a much more aggressive program to save coastal Louisiana from disappearing.

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