Today's Portland Press Herald features Joe Kelley, a Maine geologist who is serving on a National Research Council (National Academies) panel advising federal and local officials on restoring and protecting coastal Louisiana. Their work was completed this summer, but they reconvened in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
Kelley has had considerable positive influence on the management of Maine beaches, and I have found him to be straightforward and enviably objective. So, having made statements here and here about addressing the devastation, I now wish to share excerpts that will further refine my position...
In an interview this week, Kelley said federal and local officials have unrealistic expectations. ... Kelley believes officials should abandon some areas of the delta with a policy of "managed retreat" and focus on projects that are more important to the nation's economic interests.
This fits my view well. I will need to alter my mindset, though, to accept another Kelley statement that has drawn criticism from environmentalists. He was quoted in the New York Times (requires payment) as saying that healthy marshes would not have protected New Orleans. As paraphrased in the PPH:
People interested in restoring marshes have used storm protection as a rationale to gain funding for their projects, he said, but the role marshes play as a storm buffer may be overrated. [emphasis added]
Until we can accurately forecast the degree of flood protection offered by salt marshes (not likely), we should err on the side of protecting and restoring them.