Under a memorandum of understanding announced on Jan. 26, Louisiana and federal agencies will attempt to trim three years off the permitting timetable for the $1.3-billion mid-Barataria Diversion Project, a key part of a plan to rebuild Louisiana’s shrinking coastline.
The agreement seeks to put into action an executive order, signed by President Trump in August, that calls for federal permitting of major infrastructure projects to be completed in two years. If the MOU is successful, construction on the project could begin as early as 2020. Under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ previous timetable, permits would not have been completed until 2022.
Ricky Boyett, spokesman for the Corps’ New Orleans District, says decisions regarding schedule will be made in March.
In July, the state tapped AECOM to oversee project management, engineering and design for the project. The state hopes by September to negotiate a construction manager-at-risk contract. In south Plaquemines Parish, the mid-Barataria program comprises a gated diversion project that would move up to 75,000 cu ft of sediment per second into Barataria Bay from the Mississippi River.
Environmental groups, including the National Audubon Society and the Environmental Defense Fund, welcomed the MOU, though many had been critical of Trump’s executive order calling for expedited permitting, fearing that the accelerated process could lead to outcomes that would be harmful to the environment or public health.
“We are very comfortable with a more efficient process on the mid-Barataria sediment diversion because it is an environmental restoration project with which we are intimately familiar and one which has been considered and analyzed for decades,” says Steve Cochran, associate vice president for coastal protection at the Environmental Defense Fund.