Remarks at Parishes Against Coastal Erosion (PACE) Meeting : COASTAL ZONE 2005
July 17, 2005
I would like to welcome all of you here today. Parishes Against Coastal Erosion, or PACE, was formed to unite local governments in their individual efforts to fight coastal erosion. More than half of all Louisiana citizens reside in the 21 coastal parishes; thus it is critical that these local governments come together to make sure that the rest of the country understands the true worth of our wetlands, not only to our state, but to the entire nation. We more than any group recognize our wetlands as a truly unique resource and a national treasure. Our citizens who live and work on the coast, in areas like Buras, Empire and Venice, see first hand the land slipping away and they know the real cost of unchecked erosion. The Gulf is washing into their homes and businesses, erasing a one of a kind fishery/trapping based culture. Local fishers, who spend time outside of our levees, have been sounding the alarm for years as they have witnessed the incremental changes taking place over the last 50 years – a bayou getting wider, an island getting smaller.
As the President of Plaquemines Parish, as well as the President of PACE, I am very proud of my parish, our coastal wetlands and bountiful natural resources. PACE knows that loss of Louisiana’s wetlands will have disastrous effects on economics and way of life in coastal Louisiana and the entire nation. But to the rest of the nation, our land loss is an abstract notion. Here at home it is all too real. So, what’s at stake?
Our state’s wetlands provide critical habitat for one of the most bountiful fisheries in the nation, providing up to 35% of the nation’s total catch. Louisiana also contributes 40% of the nation’s total commercial fur harvest, and provides wintering grounds for 70% of nation’s migratory waterfowl.
But our wetlands are not only important to wildlife. There are huge national implications because the largest port system in the nation, along with tens of thousands of miles of oil & gas pipelines, is at risk. Our wetlands provide about 25% of the nation’s oil & natural gas production, and ports along the Mississippi River in south Louisiana constitute the nation’s largest port and the world’s largest port tonnage, handling more than 450 million tons annually. As wetlands and barrier islands disappear, the wells, pipelines and other facilities will be exposed to open water and become more vulnerable to damage from storms.
A major hurricane would exacerbate this land loss, and without wetlands as a buffer, pipelines, refineries, ports, roads and bridges, all of which are vital to energy delivery, would be more vulnerable. And the entire New Orleans metropolitan area would be at risk. Much of the area lies below sea level, basically in a bowl surrounded by levees that fend off coastal waters and the Mississippi River. All rainwater that falls in the bowl must be pumped out. As the marsh between these levees and the Gulf is lost, storm surges reaching urbanized areas are much higher. Wetlands lost give a storm surge a clearer path to wash over the delta and pour into the bowl, trapping 1 million people inside and another million in surrounding communities. Extensive evacuation would be impossible because surging water would cut off the few escape routes.
The National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration’s (NOAA) prediction that this year’s Atlantic hurricane season would bring above normal activity is proving all too true. For the first time in recorded history, a Category 4 hurricane out of the Gulf of Mexico struck the Gulf Coast in July. Typically, hurricanes of this strength do not occur until much later in the season. Louisiana was lucky this time, but we can not afford to be unlucky in the future. We are already losing 24 square miles of wetlands each year.
As wetlands are lost, the state will not only lose land and the many resources valuable to its economy, but a unique, rich culture born of many diverse nationalities, which flourished along the Mississippi River and the surrounding swamps, bayous and marshes and established a reputation for a unique cuisine and lifestyle that are dependent on the wetlands.
We hope that as more and more people come to Louisiana and see first hand the unsurpassed beauty of our coast and learn about the unique culture that makes it so special, they will also come to understand what America will lose if coastal erosion is allowed to continue unabated. Unless major steps are taken now, the entire coastal ecosystem faces collapse within the next several decades.
To raise awareness of the perils facing our nation as a result of coastal land loss in Louisiana, PACE has united with state officials and is proud to be an active partner in the America’s WETLAND Campaign and we are excited to have Val Marmillion with us today to give us an update on this important initiative.