The Horror, the Horror: Eco-Carpetbagger Rachel Maddow Recoils From Specter of ... New Subdivision in Coastal Louisiana

Do you live near wetlands? Worse still, in a subdivision near wetlands? If so, please hold your head in shame and make Rachel Maddow's day. 

Reporting on the BP spill from Louisiana last week, MSNBC's self-proclaimed geek spent considerable time talking about the importance of wetlands. "Land like this is life or death, not only for the wildlife that lives there, and boy howdy do they have some wildlife, but land like this is life or death in a much bigger way," Maddow told her viewers on June 2 (1:01 in this clip). "It means life or death for all the other land that's not like this around here."

Maddow elaborated by describing a hurricane's storm surge, akin to "a high tide from hell." Wetlands buffer the coast from the impact of storm surges, Maddow said. "They say that every 2.7 square miles of wetlands that a storm passes over brings the storm surge for communities behind those wetlands down by one foot," marking the difference between "destruction" and "biblical destruction."

"And even before this oil disaster, Louisiana was losing 25 square miles of wetlands every year," Maddow said. "Get this -- during the time of this broadcast, this TV show airing tonight, an area of wetlands the size of two football fields will be lost into the sea."

That being the case, Louisiana residents and public officials surely appreciate the importance of protecting wetlands, right? Just the opposite, or so Maddow implied. Here is a report she filed on June 2 while en route to Jean LaFitte Historical National Park and Preserve (first part of embedded video) --   

MADDOW:  So we're driving down to the national historical park and reserve, here to see this amazing, amazing sample of Louisiana, southern Louisiana wetlands, we're on our way to the wetlands and what do we pass? A giant microcosm of the problem. Here on what used to be wetlands and is now fill is a giant new subdivision. They've got all the model homes open today for people to come (scratches head in disbelief) to see if they want to live here on what might have quite recently been land that would have saved New Orleans and is now the exact thing that might doom New Orleans.

This from a Northeast liberal who divides her time between residences in Manhattan and the foothills of the Berkshires. Elitist disdain drips from every word  ... oh what fools these rednecks be ...

To this former reporter who occasionally awoke during conservation commission hearings in Massachusetts, Maddow's assertion rang false. She is apparently unaware -- or unwilling to acknowledge -- the widely used planning practice known as wetlands mitigation.

To wit, if I'm a developer and want to build near wetlands, in many states including Louisiana I will have to replace or limit damage to any wetlands lost through what I'm building -- in a word, mitigate. You'd never know that based on Maddow's shoot-from-the-hip reporting here.

Sure enough, according to the American Planning Association, "Louisiana requires mitigation for all permits to develop coastal wetlands." In a section on its Web site titled "State Mitigation Law," the APA goes into further detail on this --

The Department of Natural Resources is generally authorized to adopt regulations establishing mitigation criteria, including criteria for granting credits and geographical limitations on where credits may be used. However, the statute also prohibits the Department from requiring mitigation from projects "which the secretary [of the Department] determines is primarily designed...to provide a net gain in ecological values" and authorizes the secretary to require either on-site or off-site mitigation despite any contrary provisions in department regulations if he or she "determines that the proposed mitigation is acceptable and sufficient."

Louisiana also creates a wetlands conservation and restoration program,[193] under which a wetlands conservation and restoration plan[194] is prepared and implemented by a Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force consisting of the secretaries of the Departments of Natural Resources, Wildlife& Fisheries, Environmental Quality, and Transportation& Development.[195] The program is financed by the state Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Fund, which receives a set portion of the state's mineral revenues.[196]

In other words, the antithesis of the willy-nilly, laissez-faire approach implied by Maddow.

Here, for example, is a New Orleans Times-Picayune story from Feb. 19 on a proposed subdivision along the Tchefuncte River --

The Army Corps of Engineers is poised to grant the project a long-awaited permit to fill wetlands on the site, although Delta Land Holding first must offset the wetlands impact, (emphasis added and again) receive a Coastal Use Permit from the state Department of Natural Resources and obtain the necessary approval from the state Office of Historic Preservation, Amanda Jones, a spokeswoman for the corps, said this week.

The permit likely is forthcoming because Delta Land Holding has minimized the project's impact to the site and all of the resource agencies concur with the developer's final plan and mitigation proposal, Jones said. The development will impact 5.7 acres of wetlands, whereas an earlier incarnation of the plan called for destroying more than 44 acres, said Jamie Phillippe, an environmental scientist with the state Department of Environmental Quality, which is reviewing the developer's request for water quality certification for the project. ...

Even a $30 million housing and employment project for developmentally disabled adults, to employ 100 full-time staffers, isn't exempt for restrictions on impacts to wetlands, as reported by the Times-Picayune in February 2009 --

The project needs the approval of the Army Corps of Engineers, she said, because about half the 100-acre site is designated as wetlands. Breaux said the wetlands would not be developed, but would remain in their natural state for nature walks and education on coastal erosion and restoration. She said she hopes to have the needed permits by this summer.

Two days after Maddow's chilling encounter with newly built housing, she took a boat trip into the Gulf of Mexico for a closer look at oil from the BP spill. While describing efforts to save Queen Bess Island, a major habitat for the brown pelican, Louisiana's state bird, Maddow talked about a federal law enacted 20 years ago that mandated ... wetlands restoration (second part of embedded video) --

MADDOW: And so in 1989 when it became clear that water was overwashing Queen Bess Island, that this island might go away, when it was sinking a foot per decade, when all the vegetation on the island is going away and therefore making it erode more because the water was just washing over it, everybody freaked out. And thanks to the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act, that brought on a full-scale effort to save Queen Bess Island.They built a long, a dike out of seashells that went right off the side of the island in order to try to keep it from shrinking. They built up on what used to be the natural ridgelines of the island, they piled up earth there and planted it so that the island would have more of a foothold. They dumped a huge amount of dredged material from this bay onto this island to try to save it. It was really a full-court press and you know what? Pelicans came back and pelicans have been nesting here, this rookery supports hundreds of pairs of pelicans and the brown pelican is back, it's no longer extinct, and this island is a big reason why and it took a lot of effort to get it to be saved.

The scope of the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act wasn't limited to Queen Bess Island. Passed in 1990, the law was "the first federal statutorily mandated restoration of Louisiana's coastal wetlands and the first stable source of federal funds dedicated exclusively to the long-term restoration of coastal wetlands," according to a report from the National Wetlands Research Center (pages 9-10). The report further states --

Since then, Louisiana has received an average of approximately $50 million each year for coastal restoration projects through CWPPRA. These federal funds are currently matched by a 15 percent state contribution.
... In the last 15 years, the program has constructed, is constructing, or has approved for construction 78 projects at a total cost of nearly $624.5 million. ... These projects are expected to re-establish or protect a total of approximately 70,616 net acres and enhance 320,354 acres of additional wetlands. ... Additionally, 47 projects at a total cost of approximately $913.4 million are in engineering and design. These projects are anticipated to re-establish or protect approximately 32,665 net acres and enhance 194,859 acres of additional wetlands. Of these 47 projects, the engineering and design is nearly complete for 11, but presently there are insufficient CWPPRA funds ($262.3 million) for their construction. In 2004, Congress reauthorized the funding for the CWPPRA program through 2019.
The CWPPRA Program has been the State's primary tool for responding to wetland loss.

... thereby providing habitat not just for pelicans but for people too -- even those who want to live in subdivisions on the bayou.

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts