Those projects could draw on up to $100 million in new funding over the next decade if voters this fall approve Constitutional Amendment 4, which would in part re-direct 50 percent of the funds from oil and gas severance tax dollars from state-owned lands in the basin.
The Atchafalaya Basin is the nation’s largest river swamp and represents the largest contiguous bottomland hardwood forest in the U.S.
The Atchafalaya Basin Floodway system encompasses about 838,000 acres, with approximately 400,000 of that being publicly owned.
Whether the amendment passes or fails, the legislative changes to how the board manages basins projects will stand.
If that amendment passes, the language mandates that 85 percent of the funding intended for basin programs would be allocated to water management and access projects in the basin, with the rest going to recreation projects in the area.
“Today marks the beginning of a new era in the implementation of the master plan for the Atchafalaya Basin,” said Louisiana Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Angelle.
He said the new rules on approving and funding projects in the basin have been crafted to put management of water and other basin resources first.
“Our goal is to build a program that is viewed as a top resources management program in the nation,” Angelle said. “The legislation adopted this past session, makes a seismic shift in the structure and processes of the basin program.”
“The new law brings transparency to the basin program and focuses on the resources of the basin. I will also actively support the constitutional amendment that helps fund the future work in the basin,” Gov. Bobby Jindal said.
The new law has created a Technical Advisory Group to be chaired by a representative of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and made up of representatives from the departments of Natural Resources, Wildlife and Fisheries, Environmental Quality, Agriculture and Forestry, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geologic Survey, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and LSU School of Renewable Resources. The advisory group will review all water management project proposals.
The members of the group will also hold public meetings and public hearings to get comments and proposed projects for review, and will forward recommendations on to the Research and Promotion Board.
Water management project proposals must meet basic criteria of being within the Atchafalaya Basin Floodway System, having the potential to directly address water quality and/or sedimentation problems in the floodway, addressing conservation, protection and/or restoration of the basin ecosystem, and enhancing the natural resources of the basin.
The board will then decide which projects to include in its annual plan, which will presented to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to determine whether it is consistent with the coastal master plan.
Angelle said that connection is important, because the overload of sediment that is a problem in the basin could be part of the solution to problems on the coast.
The first set of public meetings to hear project ideas is set for Sept. 9 through Sept. 11.
The Sept. 9 meeting will be in Plaquemine, the Sept. 10 meeting in Henderson and the Sept. 11 meeting in Morgan City.