St. Charles Herald-Guide

Amendments could help save coast

Allen Lottinger - October 4, 2006

It used to be voters in Louisiana voted consistently against proposed constitutional amendments. That's when they had up to 52 proposals for voters to meditate on while in the voting booth.

That number has decreased somewhat but still 13, such as we had Saturday, is a bit much for those who don't keep up closely with state politics to digest. But, amazingly enough, all 13 passed.

The most important ones passed by big margins with more than 90 percent of the vote in St. Charles and even more statewide. Two of them will dedicate all royalties the state receives from the outer continental shelf, if we get any from the feds, and 20 percent of funds from any sale of the state's tobacco settlement to state coastal restoration. A third will create two professional flood control authorities in the New Orleans area - - one on the east bank and one of the west bank. The Pontchartrain Levee Board which controls the east bank levees of St. Charles would still exist but would relinquish control of matters that overlap into the consolidated district.

Those three amendments are enough to conclude that Louisiana is on the right track. It should make Congress want to help us.

The bills in the House and Senate that would provide some of those royalties to Louisiana are on hold while Congress is taking its break to campaign in the mid-term elections that could determine majority parties. In five weeks, we could have a Congress that will change leadership at the beginning of next year. What effect that will have on our hopes for offshore revenue is not known at this time. Cong. Bobby Jindal seems optimistic that Louisiana could still get what it needs. Sen. Mary Landrieu, however, has blamed the House for torpedoing a passable bill in the Senate with a House bill that would provide more for our state.

Faced with the knowledge that Louisiana wants to do its part in providing that restoration with passage of the constitutional amendments, Congress, perhaps, will give us a break.

The best we could hope for is passage of something close to the House bill by the Senate that would give Louisiana 35 percent of all royalties past the continental shelf, of which we get nothing now. That would give us immediate revenue, about $6 billion a year, to start pumping silt from the river into the wetlands and sand from offshore onto our barrier islands. The worst that could happen would be for Congress to do nothing. Next to that would be for the House to pass the Senate bill that gives Louisiana only a portion of royalties from new drilling in only a certain area.

That would give us very little until new production starts pumping which could be in 2017. Since we are losing up to 50 square miles of land to the Gulf of Mexico every year, we will have very little to repair by then.