Public private partnerships are the key to restoring the GulfJuly 27th, 2012 | by Irit Tamir
Last week Oxfam, The Nature Conservancy, and Coast Builders Coalition hosted a forum, Rebuilding Our Economy, Restoring Our Environment in Thibodaux, Louisiana—ground zero for some of the most severe climate hazards that Louisiana has experienced. The forum brought together a diverse set of stakeholders from the private sector, government, workforce agencies, conservation and environmental organizations and community groups to promote workforce development and training in coastal restoration projects.
Over 50 companies representing engineering, construction, environmental consulting and dredging firms came to the forum to hear from the Louisiana Economic Development and Workforce agencies, the Louisiana Community and Technical Colleges along with a presentation from Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. What became clear throughout the day was that these folks needed to talk to one another much more. With Louisiana losing 16 square miles of coastline per year, coastal communities are on the front lines every day. Before their communities literally wash away, we will need to see these stakeholders coming together more often to collaborate on the best ways to save coastal Louisiana while making sure that local communities are more resilient for the next storm.
A few steps forward in this effort were already made and announced at the forum. Bryan Moore from the Louisiana Workforce Agency told the audience that he would dedicate a staff person specifically towards the coastal restoration industry to collaborate with the industry and other stakeholders to ready a local labor force with the appropriate skill sets needed for costal restoration projects. Good for industry but better yet for those communities that have seen their livelihoods in the fishing industry damaged by the BP oil spill. Derrick Manns, Vice President of the Louisiana Community and Technical College system said he would work on bring training programs into the communities where out of work fishermen and unemployed workers live.
Last month, Congress passed the bi-partisan bill known as the RESTORE the Gulf States Act. This law will send 80% of Clean Water Act fines back to the Gulf to restore and rebuild the region’s battered economy and environment. The sum of fines could be anywhere from 5-20 billion which presents a real opportunity for the Gulf states that could be squandered if the monies are not used as means of investment in those communities that have been hit the hardest by climate hazards. As Reverend Edwards from the Zion Travelers Cooperative Center put it at the forum, “Louisiana has seen big money before, like after Katrina, but it never gets into the communities, we need it to get into the communities if we are ever going to see things change.”
At the forum, Oxfam America and The Nature Conservancy presented a new report entitled “Rebuilding Our Economy, Restoring Our Environment: How the Emerging Restoration Economy Offers New and Expanded Opportunities for Gulf Coast Businesses and Communities.” The report notes the importance of the Gulf Coast to the country’s environment and economy and explores the potential of the new restoration economy to employ people, revitalize the economy, and repair vital ecosystems.
Both the report and the forum are a result of a new partnership by Oxfam American and The Nature Conservancy. This partnership is predicated on the idea that what is good for the environment is good for communities. Particularly in the Gulf, where people’s livelihoods are so intertwined with the Gulf’s rich natural resources, the environment must be preserved and restored if those livelihoods are to remain sustainable. We chose to partner with The Nature Conservancy because their goals and capacities lie in helping to restore the Gulf’s degraded ecosystems for the benefit of nature and people. The Conservancy has been part of the gulf Coast community for more than 35 years and with partners, has helped to protect or restore more than 3 million acres in the five Gulf States. Since 1994, Oxfam has been committed to working in the Gulf Coast—a region where the people are uniquely linked to the environment, and thus particularly sensitive to disruptions. “Our partnership with Oxfam has broadened our thinking about our goals in the Gulf. It’s extremely rewarding to know that our joint efforts will not only improve our coastal environments but also help ensure that our unique culture and way of life are preserved for generations to come,” said Cindy Brown, Director of TNC’s Gulf of Mexico Program.
As restoration continues in the Gulf of Mexico, there is still much work to be done; restoring the Gulf will not be easy or quick, but it can be done. And to be successful, restoration must focus as much on the needs of and benefits to people as it does to the lands and waters. To that end, Oxfam is proud to partner with The Nature Conservancy to promote restoration in the Gulf of Mexico. But for coastal communities to survive it’s going to take a lot more than two non-governmental organizations working together… business, communities and government agencies will have to have lots more conversations but the forum was a great start.