BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Billions of dollars from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig disaster could help begin to repair the Louisiana coast. But if lawmakers don't make smart decisions with the money, the state could lose out. The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority is told that money is critical in restoring the coast.
Four years after the oil spill, 200 miles of Louisiana's shoreline is still oiled. Some companies involved in the drilling project have paid one billion dollar in penalties under the so called Restore Act. No money in civil penalties has come from BP.
Garret Graves, the former chair of CPRA, estimates as much as 16 billion dollars could be available for the five states. How much each state gets is still partially undecided. But the CPRA does have some ideas on how it should be spent.
"Building levees is a good investment in some areas," said Graves. "In others, it's restoring coastal wetlands, restoring Barrier Islands, re-establishing habitat for the fishing industry we have, ducks and water fowl."
State Representative Simone Champagne, (R)-Ethel, says Louisiana needs that money to rebuild. But she says lawmakers have a bad habit of using one-time money to fill gaps in the budget. For example, she says this week, lawmakers took 51 million dollars from the Coastal Protection Fund in the 2014-2015 budget and used it to give funding to aide libraries, the Council on Aging, the Department of Education and the Board of Regents.
All good causes, but not what the money was intended for.
"If we divert those dollars to lower priority uses, we could remain vulnerable and have another Katrina situation," Graves said.
The state also faces another challenge, one from other gulf states who feel Louisiana may get too much of the overall settlement money.
Under the Restore Act, there are three pots of money. In pot one, each state gets equal portions of money. In pot two, which Graves says is geared to Louisiana, that money is marked for projects with a wide impact on the Gulf of Mexico. The third pot of money, is based on how much land was oiled because of the disaster, how many parishes and counties were affected and how close each was to the rig.