Results and Accomplishments
Typically, Corps of Engineers studies include an interdisciplinary approach in its feasibility reports and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents (e.g., Environmental Impact Statements [EIS]) that may include portions prepared by contractors and other experts for very specific aspects of a particular study. The Corps also typically includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Coordination Act Report as an appendix to the main report and EIS.
In contrast, the nationally-significant catastrophic disaster of natural and human-induced coastal land loss in coastal Louisiana has engendered a heretofore unprecedented interagency cooperation and coordination extending from the working level to the highest administrative levels of Federal and state natural resources agencies to develop an ecosystem restoration plan for coastal Louisiana.
The study’s approach was formulated and prepared by local academia, biologists, scientists, engineers, and other experts who contributed their knowledge and expertise into the report. This Project Delivery Team (PDT) provided a truly unique and positive manner in advancing the state of the art in water resource planning.
To further streamline the study’s progress, the PDT took a bold step with the formation of an on-site collocated team consisting of the other Federal and state natural resource agencies tasked with the day-to-day coordination and preparation, at the working level, of the LCA Study Report and Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). Collocating or physically moving core team members into the same physical site improved informal multidisciplinary communication and cooperation among the team members, minimized response time to problems, and promoted closer working relationships and mutual trust within the PDT. The collocation effort promoted and fostered “team synergy” and it quickly became obvious that the whole team was greater than the sum of its parts. In addition to the local sponsor, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, other federal agencies who contributed to the report’s success included: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Department of Interior (DOI) which includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (F&WS), the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the Minerals Management Service (MMS). Collocating the cross-functional project-based team was instrumental in the ultimate success of the study.
Responsibility for the LCA Study and compliance with the National Environmental Protection Act of 1969 (NEPA) process rests with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in coordination with the local sponsor and other resource agencies. However, all of the PDT members played a critical role in the LCA Study process by utilizing their subject matter expertise in the preparation of the PEIS and the Main Report.
The LCA Study team composed the report using two primary objectives. First, identify the most critical ecological needs of the coastal area and identify and evaluate the cost effectiveness of the projects that best meet those needs. Second, it addressed the key long-term scientific uncertainties and engineering challenges facing the effort to protect and restore the ecosystem. The plan also included an evaluation of the priority and implementation sequence for projects, including completing and modifying existing projects. If Congress grants authorization of the LCA Study, the near-term program will provide funds for the next ten years for an estimated total cost of $2 billion dollars with a project lifespan of 50 years.
Since the beginning of the study, each PDT expert directly participated in information and data gathering and analysis, formulating plans, analyzing alternatives, and assessing potential impacts to the significant resources. The results of those efforts by the PDT were documented in the PEIS and the Main Report for historic conditions, existing conditions, and future without project conditions. Once the plan alternative was selected and recommended, the future conditions of that plan were then analyzed and documented.
The team, at any given time, averaged 40 personnel—with representatives from the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources and six other federal agencies. Within the collocated team, there were several smaller teams that focused on more specific aspects of the study. Benefits and successes of the team included: facilitation of EPA participation in the review of the preliminary draft EIS for the marsh creation component of the Barataria Basin feasibility study; coordination with regulatory and planning staff; Grand Isle development issues; the proposed Port Fourchon maritime ridge project; EPA’s proposed Maurepas Swamp Diversion; coordination with the Corps CWPPRA (Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act) staff on freshwater diversions and other issues; and an increase in opportunities for regulatory site visits, while improving coordination on both specific permit issues and mitigation banking efforts.
Some types of alternatives the study team members produced included, but were not limited to, structural and non-structural solutions that assured vertical accumulation to achieve sustainability of ecosystems; maintained estuarine gradients to achieve coastal habitat diversity; and maintained exchange and interface to achieve ecosystem linkages. These can be accomplished through implementation of the following project types: freshwater diversions, sediment diversions, outfall management, hydrologic restoration, marsh management, shoreline protection, barrier islands, dredged material/marsh restoration, sediment and nutrient trapping, and vegetation planting.
Specific significant resources/subject matter areas addressed by PDT members included: EPA—gulf hypoxia and aspects of regulatory permits input; NRCS—soils, vegetation, and habitat resources; NOAA Fisheries—aquatic resources such as shell reefs, fisheries, shellfish, invertebrates, essential fish habitat, and threatened and endangered species; USFWS—wildlife resources, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, and threatened and endangered species; LDNR—as the local cost sharing sponsor, provided support for project management, contract management, engineering, real estate (including access and indemnification for state-owned lands), and report preparation; USGS—geospatial coordination, geographical information systems/remote sensoring (GIS/RS) support, management of web site, data, and map production, digital library support, ecological support, and water quality resources. In addition to the PDT members’ support, the academic community provided support and input for hydrologic and habitat modeling and benefit modeling. The USACE provided expertise on planning and project/study management, plan formulation and alternatives analysis, budget, engineering and design, hydraulic, GIS, economic, real estate, historic and cultural resources, recreation, aesthetics, air quality, noise, hazardous, toxic, and radioactive wastes, water quality, significant environmental resources, expertise on NEPA compliance documentation as well as preparation of required permits and coordination with permitting agencies; and overall report preparation.
Given the number of agencies and individuals involved in the LCA Study, a well-defined management structure, conducive to vertical awareness at every level, was considered necessary. The various teams fell into one of three categories: coordination teams, project execution teams, and special teams. Team representation was a natural progression of public outreach, with members interacting and engaging the public and stakeholders throughout the study.
A large segment of the public affected by the loss of the state’s coastal wetlands is made up by more than two million residents who make Louisiana’s coastal zone their home. It is also home to a unique cultural heritage that contains more than two million residents. Tourists travel from all over the world to experience Mardi Gras, Louisiana style, the French Quarter, the Cajun culture, the heritage of Mark Twain’s Mississippi River, the birthplace of jazz, delta blues, Tabasco sauce, Oysters Rockefeller and blackened redfish.
Due to the passionate interest in the restoration of Louisiana’s coastal wetlands and a strong commitment to ensure that Louisiana and the nation were aware of the study, the Corps and state hosted 43 public meetings throughout Louisiana, in Texas, Mississippi and Tennessee. These meetings were held to inform the public about the study and to generate public interest and provide an avenue to input on key issues or concerns. The Corps received hundreds of comments as a result, and several changes were made to the draft report. For example, study managers reevaluated an earlier strategy of placing rock along the north channel of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet to stem erosion and decided instead to take a more holistic approach of environmental restoration along a larger portion of the channel.
The Louisiana coastal ecosystem is disappearing at an alarming rate, yet scientists believe that a self-sustaining ecosystem can be restored and maintained to protect the facilities, environment, and culture needed to support a growing economy. Coastal restoration is not only for the future of Louisiana but also the future of the nation. The level of interest and support for coastal restoration shown at the public meetings demonstrates that the citizens of Louisiana are ready for action.
Processes to most planning phases within any Corps project are normally accomplished within a three to five year time frame, especially a study effort the size and scale of the LCA Study. The study team undertook and successfully completed a complex effort involving multi-agency coordination, data management and application, within a time-constrained period. The synergy created and fostered by all team members that were faced with an accelerated 18-month schedule and rigid milestones was able to meet all due dates that produced four draft reports, with each one assigned to a specific deadline. It is essential to recognize that the collocation approach and its associated benefits will set new standards for planning future ecosystem restoration programs.
The LCA Study Team’s vital contributions, in the form of the LCA Study, should serve as the catalyst for sustaining an enormously productive ecosystem so important to the economy and well being of the State and Nation.