New Orleans environmental canvassers spark local backlash

New Orleans environmental canvassers spark local backlash
June 29, 2009
By Nikki Buskey

HOUMA -— A New Orleans-based environmental-advocacy group is canvassing the Houma-Thibodaux area seeking support for its coastal-restoration efforts through July and August.

But questions the group has raised about the Morganza-to-the-Gulf hurricane-protection system under construction in Terrebonne have sparked a backlash from local levee advocates.

The Gulf Restoration Network is an environmental group dedicated to maintaining the Gulf of Mexico’s health and tackles a number of environmental problems that affect Terrebonne and Lafourche and the Gulf Coast in general, including wetlands restoration, the Gulf dead zone and cypress-forest logging.

The Morganza Action Coalition, a group that lobbies for the hurricane-protection system, issued a statement Friday asking local residents to “ask questions” before donating to or joining the Gulf Restoration Network. Morganza advocates claim the New Orleans group has publicly opposed the Morganza levee system.

“We recognize that the Morganza-to-the-Gulf hurricane-protection System and comprehensive coastal restoration are critical to our future,” said Berwick Duval, a Houma attorney and president of the Morganza Action Coalition. “However, there are people from outside our area who think they know more about what we need than those of us living here. These folks do not support Morganza but may be knocking on your door tonight to ask you for a donation to their cause.”

Aaron Viles, campaign director with the Gulf Restoration Network, says the group does not opppose Morganza.

“We feel that everyone in south Louisiana needs to be protected from the stronger storms and storm surge that are coming along,” Viles said.

He added that the campaign supports a so-called “multiple-lines-of-defense” strategy for Louisiana’s coast, which in addition to building levees, contends that coastal residents need to be protected by restored wetlands, natural ridges barrier islands as well as raising homes to prevent flooding.

He added that the group does have some “significant questions about some of the possible alignments” of the Morganza-to-the-Gulf levee, however.

“We are very concerned that when people say we want a sustainable coast that we’re thinking carefully and deliberately about how we build these levees,” Viles said. “Levees need wetlands to survive, but wetlands don’t need levees. You need a wetland buffer in front of a levee for it to succeed, but some of these cross-basin alignments we’re seeing where you’ve got hundreds of acres of wetlands trapped behind the levee — that’s a death knelle for those wetlands.”

Morganza Coalition officials say that when asked about the levee system, Gulf Restoration Network leaders have said “they believe the levee system will never be built or take much too long to complete to warrant their group’s support.”

“If a GRN representative pays you a visit, I urge you to ask them about their organization’s position on Morganza-to-the-Gulf,” Duval said. “Tell them that our future relies on the restoration and protection that Morganza will provide and the lock, levee and floodgate system is a key component of our comprehensive coastal-restoration plan.”

If you would like information about the Gulf Restoration Network and its mission, visit the group’s Web site at For information about the Morganza Action Coalition, visit
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