FILE - Terrebonne Parish Louisiana

Island Road in Terrebonne Parish Louisiana. This road crosses through Pointe Aux Chenes Wildlife Management Area.

Louisiana’s top official for coastal issues says state and local officials must learn to live with the “new normal” of climate change.

Chip Kline, chairman of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, acknowledged that not everyone agrees human activities are causing the climate to change. But regardless of the causes, the effects are undeniable, he said.

“I think sea level rise is going to be the main driver that we need to contend with if we’re going to be successful [preserving coastal Louisiana],” Kline said in a recent online discussion hosted by Val Marmillion of America’s Wetland Foundation. “You can’t argue with the fact that the Gulf of Mexico is rising.”

More intense storms and frequent periods of high water in the Mississippi River likely will continue to be features of the new normal, he said. State government will continue to work to make south Louisiana “as resilient as possible,” but it’s likely some areas will be surrendered to the sea.

If you compare the 2012 version of the state’s $50 billion coastal restoration plan to the 2017 update, the worst-case scenario for sea level rise in the former is the best-case scenario in the latter, Kline said.

“Over the next several years there are going to be difficult conversations with some of the communities that live in areas that are simply not sustainable,” Kline said.

Isle de Jean Charles, a largely Native American community located on a sliver of land in lower Terrebonne Parish, already has been offered voluntary resettlement funded by $48.3 million in federal dollars. State officials suggest the model could be replicated elsewhere.

But Kline stressed progress is being made and pushed back against the idea that “the sky is falling.” There are more coastal restoration projects underway this year than at any time in the state’s history, he said.

He said state officials will “move heaven and earth” to preserve what can be sustained, which involves building structures like levees and floodgates and restoring natural environments that are the first line of defense.

Kline said state government agencies are aligning everything they do with the coastal master plan. The Department of Transportation and Development, for example, takes land subsidence into account when deciding where and how to build roads and bridges, while the Louisiana Workforce Commission develops job training programs for working in coastal restoration.

Kline said Louisiana officials plan to initiate difficult conversations with leaders of other states that also are along the Mississippi River about how their actions affect residents downriver. For example, nutrient runoff caused by over-fertilization, which causes a “dead zone” for marine life when it reaches the Gulf, could instead be diverted and used to promote plant growth that helps to sustain coastal marshes.

“If we’re going to be successful, we’ve got to hold those northern states accountable,” he said.

Coastal Louisiana is home to about 2 million people, CPRA says. The “working coast” annually sends more than $120 billion in goods and services to the rest of the country and exports $36.2 billion internationally.

The coast also supports infrastructure that supplies 90 percent of the nation’s outer continental shelf oil and gas production, 20 percent of the nation’s  annual waterborne commerce, and 26 percent (by weight) of the continental U.S. commercial fisheries landings, the authority says.

Staff Writer

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.