Vulnerable Communities Seek Resiliency in Wake of a Degrading Gulf Coast

February 15, 2011

Americas WETLAND Foundation launches new program to assist communities in preparing for their future

BELLE CHASSE, La., Feb. 15, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ – The America’s WETLAND Foundation (AWF) announced the “Blue Ribbon Resilient Communities: Envisioning the Future of America’s Energy Coast” (BRRC) initiative today to help Gulf Coast communities from Texas to Florida prepare for resiliency against the threats of storms, rising sea levels, and disasters like the BP oil spill.

The AWF initiative, chaired by Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, and co-chaired by commissioner of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Buddy Garcia; executive director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, Dr. William W. Walker; Alabama State Senator, Vivian Davis Figures; and State Representative Randy Davis, will host 12 community leadership forums across the five Gulf states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. During the 18-month initiative, communities will consider new data about coastal vulnerabilities, including a recently released Gulf Coast Adaptation Study on protective measures, and will determine plans and actions needed to ensure a sustainable future.

Economic data from a $4.2 million study commissioned by Entergy and AWF shows the cost of doing nothing could result in $350 billion in losses over the next 20 years across the four America’s Energy Coast states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Each community will receive local data gleaned from this landmark study. The BRRC process will help local stakeholders determine core values and how to protect them, based on their vulnerabilities and the tools and options available to them.

“The economic and environmental consequences of not restoring this degrading ecosystem are even greater than we thought,” said R. King Milling, chairman of the America’s WETLAND Foundation, who announced the major initiative at the press conference held in Plaquemines Parish, one of the most vulnerable coastal communities on the Gulf Coast. “There is an urgent need to empower our local citizens to envision their futures and make critical decisions, given these facts.”

“Louisiana and the entire Gulf Coast offer tremendous benefits to the nation – its seafood, offshore energy, critical navigation routes, tourism, and incomparable wildlife and marine habitats,” Dardenne said. “The Blue Ribbon Resilient Communities project gives weight to the gravity of long-term consequences to those national assets if we don’t act soon. Most importantly, it gives our communities the opportunity to be part of charting our own destiny as we face risks that can impact our unique culture and way of life.”

As a result of the initiative, BRRC strives for the following outcomes:

  • Sustain the ecological, economic, and cultural values of Gulf Coast communities;
  • Reduce risks associated with natural and man-made disasters and vulnerabilities;
  • Provide communities the tools to make decisions and plans based on realistic timelines; and
  • Empower communities to take decisive actions to ensure a sustainable and prosperous future.

Over the next year and a half, the AWF will compile information and recommendations from the individual communities that will serve as the basis for resiliency plans and will provide the nation with a snapshot of the urgent issues facing the Gulf Coast. Local communities will benefit from the sharing of valuable research and information on setting future planning agendas by both experts in coastal restoration and everyday citizens.

“There is no better poster child for vulnerability than here in Plaquemines Parish,” said Plaquemines Parish President, Billy Nungesser. “Repeated onslaughts of storms and man-made events such as the oil spill, demonstrate just how vulnerable we are and how the complicated mechanisms of government make it difficult for local communities to deal with these problems. Our survival depends on our ability to stop coastal land loss and this program will give our people a greater voice in their collective future.”

“The Gulf Coast faces environmental risks that cross political, national and generational boundaries. If we do nothing, it’s inevitable that the region is headed for disaster. While many in the country seem oblivious to this risk, the U.S. economy, in particular, will certainly miss us when we’re gone,” said Wayne Leonard, chairman and chief executive officer of Entergy. “The formation of the BRRC displays collective leadership and the necessary commitment to solve the problems threatening not just America’s Energy Coast, but coastal communities everywhere.”

Lake Charles Mayor, Randy Roach said he’s pleased his city will host the first Blue Ribbon Resilient Community Leadership Forum. “Southwest Louisiana is home to the coastal Chenier Plain and vegetated wetlands of Cameron and Vermillion Parishes. These areas are still recovering from the economic effects of Hurricanes Rita and Ike,” Roach said. “Their future affects us all and therefore demands the immediate attention of all who want to save their communities and the cultures that make them unique. The clock is ticking and with each day the loss of our land and culture is incalculable.”

Elizabeth “Boo” Thomas, president and chief executive officer of the Center for Planning Excellence, said that for five years, her organization “has assisted communities in the planning process, designed to fortify them and ensure their viability. This project allows us a conduit to a broader constituency who can now take advantage of strategies to fortify their communities.”

“Although divided by state lines, this is one vast and vulnerable coastal environment we all rely upon to support us economically and, in too many cases, it is degrading in front of our very own eyes,” said Alabama State Sen. Vivian Davis Figures of Mobile, who joined several BRRC co-chairs. Texas environmental commissioner, Buddy Garcia, said, “By building a broad coalition and working as a cohesive region we can move forward together.” And, Alabama Representative Randy Davis noted a move of populations away from the coast due to high insurance cost and lost coverage, which will have long-term impacts. “We need a sustainable environment as populations shift and the ecosystem is altered,” said Davis.

Dr. William Walker, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources director and BRRC co-chair, said that “while coastal land loss is a crisis in Louisiana, Mississippi and the other states Gulf states face similar environmental challenges, like water quality issues that only increase each year.”

“There is strength in developing regional resiliency plans,” Walker said.

Upcoming BRRC Communities:

Lake Charles, LA

Plaquemines Parish, LA

Houston, TX

Lafourche/Terrebonne Parishes, LA

Biloxi/Gulfport/Bay St. Louis, MS

Galveston, TX

Mobile, AL

Orange Beach, AL

Pascagoula, MS

St. Mary/Iberia Parish, LA

New Orleans, LA

Florida (TBD)

The America’s WETLAND Foundation manages the largest, most comprehensive public education campaign in Louisiana’s history, raising public awareness of the impact of Louisiana’s wetland loss on the state, nation and world. The America’s Energy Coast initiative works to sustain the environmental and economic assets of the Gulf Coast region. The initiative is supported by a growing coalition of world, national and state conservation and environmental organizations and has drawn private support from businesses that see wetlands protection as a key to economic growth. For more information, visit www.americaswetland.com and www.futureofthegulfcoast.org.

SOURCE America’s WETLAND Foundation

Source: newswire

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