...that includes major oil and petrochemical facilities. Adds Hitchings: "Coastal Louisiana is also the home to a couple of million people, and that’s not without national significance."

Some work has been done in recent years under legislation such as the 1990 Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act. But the Corps report says much more needs to be done.


A regional commission’s "Coast 2050" study, issued in 1998, envisioned a $14-billion Louisiana coast restoration. But because of what the Corps report terms engineering uncertainties and tight funding, officials are taking a smaller bite, for now. The result is the $2-billion "near term" plan that awaits the signature of the chief of engineers, Lt. Gen. Carl Strock. Strock is expected to sign his report in mid-December. It then goes to the Pentagon for approval.

Constance says the plan’s aim is to reunite the Mississippi River and the estuary, which "in part or in whole have been divorced from each other." Officials have outlined an array of strategies all around the region to achieve that goal.

The plan leads off with five critical restoration elements totaling $864 million, including shoreline restoration and freshwater diversions. Constance says they moved to the top of the lineup not because of their "relative importance," but their "state of readiness or understanding." Click here to view map

Recognizing that new ground will be broken, the program also includes $310 million for demonstration projects, science and technology, use of dredged material and modifications to structures. Another $822 million would pay for other projects and studies.

For such a mammoth Corps-led program, the Louisiana plan has unusually wide backing. Shell Oil Co., which has a substantial presence in Louisiana and the Gulf, "is supportive of the Corps’ restoration plan," says a company spokesman. The company has not committed to help pay for remedial work. "Shell will look forward to working with all the concerned parties to implement this plan," says a spokesman.

The Port of New Orleans is another supporter of the near-term plan and has provided easements and rights of way to aid restoration of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, one of the first five projects. "We’re all affected by what’s happening here," says Joseph Cocchiara, director of corporate services for the port’s Board of Commissioners "Everyone recognizes the importance of reversing what’s been happening with our wetlands."

The Corps plan didn’t include the Coast 2050 report’s recommendation to close the Gulf outlet. Port officials are unwilling to consider shutting that waterway until a new lock is complete at New Orleans, Cocchiara says. The lock is under way, but won’t be finished for years.

A leading environmentalist, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana Executive Director Mark Davis, says, "We obviously think that [the Corps plan] represents an important step forward, but it’s really only meaningful if it’s part of a broader commitment to saving this place." Davis says the key issue isn’t a lack of expertise or money, but time. "This place is changing daily," he says. "We’re running out of tomorrows."