Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:
NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune on Louisiana coast restoration:
The most urgent challenge Louisiana faces is the land washing away beneath us along our coast. More than 2,000 square miles of shoreline have been destroyed since the early 1930s.
That is a daunting number, but the state is working to slow erosion and rebuild land.
In 2017, Louisiana’s coastal scientists built more than 1,000 acres of marsh, protected 32 miles of coast and planted more than 100,000 native plants and trees.
Some of the new marshland was created along the shore of Lake Lery in Plaquemines Parish, an area that was badly damaged during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Restoration started in 2015, with almost 400 acres of marsh rebuilt in the past two years.
Shell Island also is recovering after damage from the massive BP oil spill in 2010. The barrier island has 328 new acres of marsh and 372 acres of beaches and dunes.
These are just a couple of examples of the vital work to recreate land along Louisiana’s fragile coast.
The state is a decade into its 50-year coastal restoration master plan, and there are encouraging successes. The big concern, of course, is the growing price tag. When the plan was approved by the Legislature in 2007, the cost was estimated at $50 billion. Now, it is up to $92 billion.
The BP settlement is providing a funding boost, but that money will play out. The state so far has one stream of revenue that is ongoing - the revenues from the 2006 Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act.
Louisiana has been waiting more than a decade for the full force of GOMESA to kick in. We’re at that moment now, but the projections are dramatically smaller than the state was expecting.
Instead of getting $140 million per year in oil and gas royalties, the Department of the Interior said in October that Louisiana would receive only about half that much. Twenty coastal parishes were expecting to split as much as $37 million, but that also was cut in half.
To help offset those losses, Sen. Bill Cassidy and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise pushed for nearly $300 million for coastal restoration for Gulf Coast states in 2020 and 2021 in the tax bill that passed in December.
Under GOMESA, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas share 37.5 percent of Gulf oil and gas revenues. The law went into effect in 2007, but had been restricted to two small portions of the Gulf. That limited the payout.
A much larger portion of the Gulf is being added now, but energy expansion has slowed over the past decade. The added money from Congress for 2020 and 2021 is a big win.
“This is a landmark victory for coastal restoration and puts down an important marker for future increases for Louisiana’s revenue sharing,” Rep. Scalise said. This vote could indicate a willingness by Congress to increase money for the coast.
And it seems like a rejection of the efforts by former President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump to claw back the revenue sharing money to use for other expenses. Doing that would ignore the infrastructure and environmental costs of energy exploration borne by Louisiana and other Gulf states for decades. Royalty payments to the federal treasury totaled $160 billion between 1949 and 2006. All of that went to the federal government.
GOMESA finally is giving states a significant share of royalties. Louisiana is using the money wisely. The Legislature and state voters have committed to rebuild as much land as possible.
The royalty payments won’t be enough to cover the full cost of the master plan, but they are a vital piece. Thanks to Rep. Scalise and Sen. Cassidy the work to rebuild land can continue.
The Town Talk on the creation of an approved corridor through Louisiana for Interstate 14:
We recently took a look ahead at some of the issues we believe will be key points in 2018. Today we continue to look ahead, this time focusing on a key component of the work plan outlined by the Central Louisiana Regional Chamber of Commerce.
As you would expect, many of the Chamber’s efforts will be focused on short-term projects with immediate results, such as the Come Together Locally campaign to benefit local retailers, and efforts to work with state and federal lawmakers to promote and support legislation that benefits local businesses and economic development.
But a top priority for this year is something that won’t pay dividends any time soon - possibly not even in the lifetime of many of the project leaders. That effort is the push for the creation of an approved corridor through Louisiana for Interstate 14, also referred to as the Gulf Coast Strategic Highway.
The current vision for the project is to create an east-west interstate highway between I-10 and I-20 connecting military bases from central Texas all the way to Georgia. The Louisiana segment, as currently envisioned, would essentially travel along the route of La. Highway 28 through Leesville and Alexandria and exit the state in the Natchez, Mississippi, area.
Texas has taken the lead on the project, securing a Congressional authorization from a point along I-10 southwest of San Angelo and extending to the Louisiana border at the Sabine River near Leesville. Last April, a 25-mile stretch of the interstate opened near Killeen, providing access to the main gate at Fort Hood. The benefits to completing the project are many. John Thompson, chairman of the Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition, stresses the importance of the “Forts-to-Ports” concept behind the project.
In addition to greater deployment access for military bases, the interstate would provide an economic boost to the communities along the route. Central Louisiana could benefit significantly, re-establishing itself as the crossroads of the state with the junction of a north-south interstate, I-49, and the east-west I-14. That added infrastructure could easily give the region the winning edge over other cities vying for new industrial and manufacturing businesses.
The interstate would also be beneficial when hurricanes strike. Currently, evacuees from south Louisiana stream north on I-49 or I-55 and have to go to Shreveport or Jackson, Miss., to reach I-20. Also, as we saw this year with Hurricane Harvey, hurricanes can render sections of I-10 impassible along the coast. I-14 would provide much-needed evacuation route access for the state’s residents as well as a path for interstate traffic to continue, and for relief workers to reach the state in times of emergency.
But for any of those benefits to happen, Congress must first authorize a designated route through Louisiana. That requires a commitment from state officials, from the DOTD to local leaders and the state’s Congressional delegation. At this point, it looks as though Louisiana leaders are all on-board.
Local chamber leaders and others will be meeting later this month in Washington, D.C. to urge Congress to authorize a route through Louisiana. We encourage our Congressional delegation to push the issue and get the Congressional authorization needed as soon as possible.
We can clearly see the value of the project and the tremendous benefits I-14 can have for Central Louisiana. Ideally, we would love to have those benefits today, but we understand projects of this magnitude take decades to complete. Which makes it that much more important to to get started on that path today. Just knowing that it is coming would be a benefit to the region.
Lake Charles American Press on U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy leading the effort to save a tax credit:
A tax credit that has benefited many cities and individuals who have been restoring historic buildings in Louisiana and elsewhere for 40 years has survived and is part of the Republican tax cut bill approved by Congress. U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., restored a major part of the tax credit with an amendment he added to the legislation.
The program was established in 1976 and it gives developers a 20 percent tax credit for qualifying renovations of old buildings, according to a report in The Times-Picayune. A 10 percent companion tax credit didn’t survive.
Jack Davis, interim executive director of the Preservation Resource Center, told the newspaper, “The major post-Katrina construction boom centered around restoring historic buildings - especially in the New Orleans Central Business District - can continue.”
The tax credit has cost the federal government about $25.2 billion over the last forty years, including $1.2 billion in 2016, the newspaper said. In its effort to avoid major spending cuts while delivering a major tax cut, an early version of the legislation eliminated both tax credits.
Since 2011, $1.3 billion in Louisiana projects - about five percent of the national total - have qualified for the tax credit and 38,000 jobs were created in the state.
Supporters of the tax credit said it restores historic structures, eliminates blight, transforms communities and creates jobs. They were encouraged to lobby Congress and it proved effective.
The Preservation Resource Center asked its members to call their representatives in Congress. Developers and economic development leaders wrote letters to newspapers and local governments adopted resolutions in favor of continuing the tax credit.
Cassidy said, “We were fortunate to lead a coalition of people from across the country, coordinating the effort to preserve the historic tax credit. These credits will continue to revitalize communities in Louisiana and create jobs.”
Cassidy’s membership on the Senate Finance Committee put him in an excellent position to spearhead the lobbying effort to restore the tax credit that has been so beneficial to his state.
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