White House lays out plans for Gulf Coast renewal

NEW ORLEANS — The Obama administration on Thursday laid out a plan to deal with the catastrophic dangers of rising sea levels, hurricanes and erosion on the Gulf Coast, and backed efforts to invest in restoring barriers islands and wetlands in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Experts hailed the policy document as the strongest sign of support for coastal restoration on the Gulf Coast ever endorsed by a White House.

“It’s a terrifically important document if it’s followed through on,” said Mark Davis, the director of the Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy at Tulane University in New Orleans.

The document, called a “roadmap” for the coast, said the nation’s energy supply, crucial ports and waterways, vital habitat for fish and wildlife and the Gulf Coast’s “rich cultural legacy” were at stake.

“Unless we stem the rapid rate of ecosystem loss in the region, the ecosystems and the services they provide will collapse,” the document said.

At risk, the paper said, was “not only the economies of Louisiana and Mississippi, but also the economy of the nation as a whole.”

Dan Turner, a spokesman for Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, praised the Obama administration and said Mississippi’s barrier islands were “flattened with recent storms” and that the state’s coast will be vulnerable “until they are restored.”

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., praised the Obama plan as carrying out an “integrated, comprehensive approach that accelerates our work in coastal Louisiana and builds a true partnership with the state.”

King Milling, the head of the Whitney National Bank in New Orleans and chairman of the coastal advocacy group America’s Wetland Foundation, said the White House was “now acting upon what many have long felt were unheard cries in the wilderness.”