BELLE CHASSE, LA (NBC33) — Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority  officials are looking for your thoughts on the draft of the state's annual plan for rebuilding the coast and protecting the state’s defenses from storms. The CPRA hosted three public meetings across the state where people could give their opinions of the CPRA’s Draft Fiscal Year 2015 Annual Plan, Integrated Ecosystem Restoration and Hurricane Protection in Coastal Louisiana. The public comment period remains open through February 18, but some members of the commercial and recreational fishing industries, seafood industries, and the Save Louisiana Coalition have already spoken out against part of the plan at a meeting Belle Chasse on Tuesday.
“The coastal parishes of Plaquemines and St. Bernard economically they’ll be wiped out if these large diversions go into effect,” Captain George Ricks, president of the Save Louisiana Coalition,  said.
The proposed annual plan is like a status report card for projects in the state's 2012 coastal master plan. It shows how the CPRA plans to spend money for the projects.
“Every year we are required to put together an annual plan. It discusses our expenditures going into the next fiscal year, and the expenditures on the projects which make up the total of the master plan.” Kyle Graham, Deputy Executive Director CPRA, said.
The proposed plan also gives a break down of what's going on for projects through the next two fiscal years. Graham said the proposed plan shows a look ahead at the status of large-scale projects including sediment diversions.
“We are spending some time to fully understand the impacts and the benefits of the sediment diversions that are proposed for the lower Mississippi River.” Graham said. “Those include dollars toward feasibility studies and engineering and design at the Mid-Barataria Diversion, as well as, efforts to look at all the diversions. So that if they do prove to be a valuable tool we can operate and maintain and understand the fisheries and socioeconomic benefits and impacts of those projects as we move forward in the future.”
The draft plan lists more than $22 million to be used for the Mid-Barataria diversion and more than $10 million to be used for Lower Mississippi River sediment diversions.
Ricks is worried proposed large-scale diversions in the Mississippi River could change the salinity levels and in turn hurt the seafood and fishing industries in areas like Plaquemines, St. Bernard, and other coastal parishes. He said he’d rather see that money spent on dredging.
"No diversions,” He said. “We have enough freshwater right now. The money could be better spent on dredging operations that build land now. "
Clint Guidry, president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, agrees with Ricks.
“We have not seen where the projections for land building or marsh creation by these large diversions are going to happen soon enough sacrificing fisheries, fishing communities, and fishing businesses, associated businesses to be effective,” Guidry said.
“We are doing dredging. We’ve had; I believe we showed slides today that showed about $1.7 billion that we’ve spent in dredging since 2008. The coastal master plan is a whole suite of projects. There is a belief out there that it’s not just one tool that is going to solve our very complex problem. Many of these projects, like sediment diversions, which are part of the coastal master plan… we are starting to understand are those tools that can really deliver what we initially believed are some of the benefits to our coast," Graham said.
Graham said the CPRA is waiting for studies to wrap up before they break ground on Mid-Barataria diversion.
“When we get to that spot in the spring of 2015, summer of 2015. We really need to sit down with the stake holders, share holders, all the various politicians, and communities to make sure people really understand the importance of whether moving forward or not with some of these structures which are anticipated to be a lot of the long time support for our coastal environments.”
For now Ricks said all he and others who oppose the large-scale diversions can do is continue to voice their concerns.
“That is all we can do right now is voice our concerns at these public meetings give our comments, and get with our legislatures to try and shift this money around to dredging projects that would build land immediately,” Ricks exclaimed.
The public comment period on the draft annual plan closes on February 19. From there Graham says the CPRA will come up with a final version of the annual plan to present to the CPRA board for approval. After that, the final plan is presented to the state legislature for final approval in March.
Click here for more information on the proposed annual plan.