Dig Baton Rouge

Champion of the Coast

By Claire Salinas

Garret Graves is not just a candidate for the United States Congress; he’s also a passionate advocate for coastal restoration. Graves has been working to promote and advance this cause in Louisiana for the past 18 years, and he is convinced that saving the coastline needs to become a priority for the nation.

Graves explained that observing the importance the United States placed on issues around the world over those here at home is what sparked his interest in coastal restoration.

“When you look across the government, we have spent trillions of dollars – that’s trillion with a ‘t’ – on a ton of efforts to be kind of an international police to the world. We’ve gone in and built infrastructures and restored wetlands in other countries, but many times we have not held our own people to the same standards.”

According to Graves, while some see the investment in the coast as “liberal government spending,” investing money in the problem now, could save the government a lot of money in the long-run.

“The Congressional Budget Office did an analysis that determined for every one dollar you invest proactively in flood prevention, you get three dollars in cost savings. A study done by FEMA says it was actually four dollars and some believe it’s even higher. Looking at Hurricane Katrina, if we had invested $10 billion on the front end, we could’ve saved 90 percent of the lives lost and the money the Federal Government spent reacting to the storm.”

If you’re scratching your head wondering exactly what the issue with the coast is, Graves explains it as a “largely a failed pluming project gone wrong.”

It was a situation, he says, “where the Federal Government came in to prevent flooding, yet their efforts caused the greatest loss of coastal lands in our nation’s history, therefore making us more vulnerable to hurricane and flooding.”

For those who see coastal restoration as another superfluous environmental issue that should be put on the backburner while more pressing societal issues are dealt with, Graves has an answer.

“Something that is fundamental, just like food, shelter and water, is safety. Those roads and schools [being invested in by the government] don’t do any good if they are under water. It’s really a fundamental issue to be addressed in terms of flood prevention, hurricane protection and coastal restoration.  I’m not saying you need to put this ahead of all road and school investments, but it’s a priority and it should be treated as such.”

Graves recently resigned from his position as Gov. Jindal’s coastal advisor and head of the Coastal Protection and Recovery Authority. He has also founded his own nonprofit, The Coastal Sustainability Foundation, so it’s obvious that coastal restoration is important to him.

While there doesn’t seem to be a lack of people willing to invest their resources into this issue, at the moment those who share Graves’ passion don’t have a simple way to contribute to the cause.

“There is a significant need to indicate to people what is happening to people in South Louisiana and its profound effect on the economy to the entire state.  We need to find ways to take advantages of the generous resources of people in South Louisiana that want to help with the coast.  The coast issue is not something you can come in and just volunteer for an hour like you can with Habitat for Humanity or other charities. It’s a much more massive and complex problem.  The idea is to develop a way for people to commit their time, energy and resources to improving the resiliency of coastal Louisiana.”

Graves reminds people that while there are many important causes to support, protecting and investing in the people of Louisiana is the most important.

“You listen to endangered species debates that say, ‘You can’t do anything here because it’s for endangered species.” You hear about all the restrictions put on private property owners to protect these species, but in South Louisiana we’re endangering the habitats where we live and where our culture and our seafood is.  I think the priorities in this country need to be reevaluated and reassessed, because it’s not a question of if you’re going to spend the money, but when.”


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