Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast

Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast (2012 Coastal Master Plan) was developed by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) as the state’s response to the severe coastal crisis that has led to the loss of over 1,800 square miles of land since the 1930s.  Louisiana faces one of the highest land loss rates in the world, which puts its working communities, rich deltaic ecosystem and energy infrastructure at tremendous risk. If these trends continue, the economic, social and environmental costs will be severe.  If no action is taken to reverse this trend of land loss, up to 1,750 square miles of land will convert to open water and average annual flood damages will increase tenfold from $2.3 billion now to $23 billion in the next 50 years.

The 2012 Master Plan offers the first long-term, state-wide, action-specific plan to achieve the state’s protection, restoration and resiliency goals.  Previous plans discussed useful strategies but not the details of what could be done and expected costs, failing to inform citizens on important issues and clearly direct future action.  The 2012 Coastal Master Plan presents citizens, local governments, and state and federal agencies with more information about future conditions and strategies for protection, restoration and adaptation, allowing the State of Louisiana to plan for the future.

The State of Louisiana is now at the forefront of adaptive community planning and coastal resiliency with the adoption of the 2012 Coastal Master Plan. Its planning framework negotiates the different demands of human and natural systems by incorporating a comprehensive suite of environmental, economic and socio-cultural decision criteria.  The result has been the development of a dramatically different approach to storm protection with a 50-year, coast-wide, science-based, comprehensive vision for the future. State-of-the-art predictive models and a Planning Tool helped to model, visualize and analyze thousands of projects to select the top 109 synergistic projects that will have the greatest impact on land building and flood risk reduction. Recognizing the new threats that climate change holds, the master plan also serves as a pioneering example in the planning field of the interdisciplinary collaboration needed between planners, scientists and engineers to create more sustainable and resilient communities.

In addition to bringing regional-level planning to a new level of significance, the 2012 Coastal Master Plan is fostering the development of planning at a range of scales across the state. The development of the nonstructural program, which encourages a broad range of strategies to reduce flood risk and support resilient communities, brings new attention to the need for a wide range of locally developed land use plans, hazard mitigation plans, comprehensive plans, land use ordinances and other locally appropriate planning tools. More specifically, the plan dedicates $10.2 billion over the next 50 years, roughly half of all monies dedicated towards coastal protection, to the development of a state-wide nonstructural program that includes flood resiliency options, such as elevation, floodproofing, land use planning, education, ordinances and better building codes.

In order to develop the planning framework and decision making tools for the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, CPRA partnered with a wide range of groups and individuals from both the public and private sectors. Several different teams and focus groups were created to assist in tool development and provide feedback on the process and plan, including the strategic plan development (Master Plan Delivery Team), technical modeling and metrics (Predictive Modeling Technical Advisory Team, Planning Tool Advisory Team, and twelve Predictive Modeling Work Groups), environmental/social science oversight (Science and Engineering Board and Cultural Heritage Technical Advisory Committee), and public engagement (Framework Development Team, three Focus Groups, and Outreach and Engagement Team).  Team members included federal, state and local governmental agencies; local, national and international scientific specialists; academic experts and technical consultants; business and industry leaders; and non-governmental organizations, planners and coastal stakeholders. CPRA also encouraged participation from community leaders, civic groups, tribal councils, and private citizens through an extensive public outreach process.  A substantive two-way dialogue between the core planning team and coastal stakeholders was created through these teams, focus groups and public meetings.  The long-term conversations and debate on coastal issues initiated by the 2012 Coastal Master Plan’s engagement process could offer an essential critique of the plan, build bridges between the state and local communities, develop a common knowledge base, and organize networks of support.

To improve the next Coastal Master Plan, the planning team has responded to public feedback to increase engagement by creating two additional focus groups, one for communities and another for landowners. These assemblages, along with the other focus groups and the Framework Development Team, will continue to dialogue with the planning team as the process carries forward toward the next iteration of the Louisiana’s Comprehensive Plan for a Sustainable Coast due in 2017.

While the 2012 Coastal Master Plan process promoted public discourse on coastal issues, the plan, above all else, provides the technical analysis needed to demonstrate that there are dire consequences of no new investment in the Gulf coast, to both the citizens of Louisiana and the rest of the nation, as well as great benefits of providing for a safer and more sustainable future.  By modeling alternative futures for the Louisiana Gulf Coast, prescribing specific actions to reduce land loss and improve resiliency to storms, and creating an implementation plan, the 2012 Coastal Master Plan has laid out a path to insure a sustainable future for coastal Louisiana.