Gov. Edwards praises Trump Administration decision to speed review of Louisiana's coastal plans

(WVUE) - Giant projectors splash the Louisiana Delta onto a physical model of the Mississippi River at an new LSU facility near downtown Baton Rouge.

The model, the centerpiece of the Center for River Studies, is designed to help scientists study the river and Louisiana's coastal restoration plans, including sediment diversions. It represents a 14,000-square-mile stretch of South Louisiana stretching from Donaldsonville to the Gulf of Mexico.

At a ribbon cutting Monday, Edwards heaped praise on the Trump Administration agreement with Louisiana to streamline the permitting process for the first of the large diversions on the west bank in Plaquemines Parish.

At an estimated $1.3 billion, the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion would represent the most expensive coastal restoration project in the state's history, an ambitious, first-of-its-kind attempt to divert river mud and sand into open water and build land.

State officials complained loudly when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers initially estimated it could take 10 years to reach a decision on whether to allow the project's construction. While the Corps cut that estimate in half, Louisiana congressional leaders furiously lobbied the Trump administration to prod the agencies into quicker action.

Friday, Edwards announced an agreement that could shave the permitting review to less than two years, theoretically meaning a decision could come as early as August of 2019.

"All of the federal agencies have committed to that time," Edwards said.

Smaller diversions already send fresh water from the Mississippi River into marsh, but Mid-Barataria would dwarf them in size, funneling up to 70,000 cubic feet of fresh water, mud and sand into the bay.

A similar project, Mid-Breton, is planned for the east bank.

Many commercial fishermen bitterly oppose the concept, fearing fresh water would spoil salt water or brackish fisheries and raising the possibility of a lawsuit if permits are granted. The U.S. Marine Fisheries Service has raised questions about the effects on the hundreds of bottlenose dolphins that live in Barataria Bay.

If federal agencies overlook something, a federal judge could hit the pause button.

"Streamlining this process doesn't mean we get exempt from anything," said Johnny Bradberry, Chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Restoration and Planning Authority.

The governor argues the various federal agencies can save time by doing their work simultaneously instead of waiting on each other's findings.

"If you leave federal bureaucracies to do what they tend to do you will never speed up the process."

While the deal with the Trump Administration represents a victory for the state, there is no guarantee the federal government will approve the construction of the diversion.

Copyright 2018 WVUE. All rights reserved.