Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council Proposes an $8 Million Gulf Coast Conservation Corps Program

A Climb CDC Corpsmember and Texas Conservation Corps Crewleader work together on a pilot project as part of The Corps Network's Gulf Coast Restoration Initiative. Photo Credit: The Nature Conservancy

Last week the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration (RESTORE) Council released its Draft Initial Funded Priorities List. Using funds obtained from settlements following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Restore Council now aims to solicit public feedback on $139.6 million of proposed projects by September 28th. In addition to the opportunity to provide written feedback, several public meetings have been scheduled in Gulf Coast states. 

Among the proposed projects is a Gulf Coast Conservation Corps program. The $8 million program would be administered by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with support from the U.S. Department of Interior, as well as the state governments of Gulf Coast states. In addition to training local youth and veterans, a major emphasis would be placed on the engagement and recruitment of tribal youth. The Restore Council states that "The initial recruitment target is to employ approximately 25 crewmembers per State, per year, with a total of approximately 375 crewmembers working a total of 750,000 hours."

Ecologically the program would aim to restore at least 500 acres of coastal habitat, as well as assist with the completion of other priority projects, including some of those that are part of the Draft Initial Funded Priorities List. Rather than establishing a new federal Corps program, NOAA, DOI, and the states would partner with pre-existing regional and local Corps programs who could help coordinate the implementation of the program.

The Corps Network's CEO Mary Ellen Sprenkel released the following statement on the proposed Gulf Coast Conservation Corps project:

"The RESTORE Council's commitment to restoring the Gulf Coast is not only a victory for the ecosystems, wildlife, and the Gulf of Mexico— it’s a victory for people. Thanks to the support of the Walton Family Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, and many partners in the Gulf Region over the past year and a half, we have demonstrated through several pilot projects that young people have the will and desire to be involved in this critical work. By recruiting local young people and veterans to these new, high-impact demonstration projects, a growing tide of people throughout the Gulf Region will see how empowering youth to learn how to restore their region’s lands and waters pays off for local economies and communities, as well as for the Corpsmembers themselves." 

The Corps Network has been working with a number of its members and partners in the Gulf Coast Region to demonstrate the role Conservation Corps can play in coastal restoration and in the development of a locally available conservation workforce. A number of pilot projects are ongoing as part of our Gulf Coast Restoration Initiative. 

Boiler Plate: 
Among the proposed projects is a Gulf Coast Restoration Corps program. The $8 million program would be administered by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with support from the U.S. Department of Interior, as well as the state governments of Gulf Coast states. In addition to training local youth and veterans, a major emphasis would be placed on the engagement and recruitment of tribal youth. The Restore Council states that "The initial recruitment target is to employ approximately 25 crewmembers per State, per year, with a total of approximately 375 crewmembers working a total of 750,000 hours."

Gulf of Mexico Foundation Works with Texas Conservation Corps to Train Youth, Plant Marsh Grass

Conservation group plants marsh grass in pairs

By JOHN WAYNE FERGUSON | Posted: Sunday, August 10, 2014 11:44 pm

GALVESTON — Planting marsh grass isn’t necessarily a hard job. But it is a two-person one.

And when you have 1,000 plants to get into the ground, it’s better to to have a team with you.

This weekend, about a dozen members of the Texas Conservation Corps worked in pairs to plant marsh grass on the shores of Eckert Bayou.

One team member used a dibble to make a hole in the muddy soil of marshland and another would put the plant, spartina alterniflora, into the ground, then mash the soil back into the hole. “It’s not for everyone,” said corps crew leader Erica Keller, as her team walked through the mud and tried to ignore the pounding Texas heat. “Sometimes it’s about going outside your comfort zone.”

That hard work does pay dividends.

Alice Anne O’Donnell, whose property was the site of the planting project, said the Corps was a “godsend.” The marsh plants helped protect her house from the debris when the waters rose 7 feet during Hurricane Ike.

The marshes also provide crucial habitat for birds and other animals to live and feed in. O’Donnell said a similar project had been completed in the past, but years of natural erosion and fishermen walking through the marsh from a nearby boat ramp had destroyed part of it.

Members of the Conservation Corps, which is affiliated with the AmeriCorps program, are used to tough work. They camp out on tops of mountains and in pine woods, restoring nature trails and habitats
and performing disaster recovery and mitigation work across the state’s varied landscapes.

Many of the participants in the program are college-bound or recent college graduates, looking for a way to help pay for the cost of school. This week, however, the corps did more than just manual labor.
During their two-week deployment to Galveston, the conservation corps also participated in classroom sessions aimed at teaching the participants more about the technical aspects of conservation work and policies.
“We are a crew that usually does hands-on work,” Keller said. “We have had the opportunity this week to begin to learn about the other side as far as things like permitting and outreach. The stuff kind of besides the physical labor.”

The corps activities were organized by the Gulf of Mexico Foundation, in corporation with groups like the Galveston Bay Foundation. Mikell Smith, the Gulf of Mexico Foundation’s program director, said Texas is on the verge of
beginning a large number of conservation projects, and there will be a critical need for well-trained, well-informed people to help complete them.

That’s what the foundation hopes to do by establishing a training program in Galveston.

“Any time that you’re doing any kind of work, no matter how labor intensive it may seem, it’s really important to get it right,” Smith said.

That’s why making sure that the people who would be leading conservation projects — the kind of people who might belong to the Conservation Corps — are well trained and ready to lead.
Boiler Plate: 
GALVESTON — Planting marsh grass isn’t necessarily a hard job. But it is a two-person one. And when you have 1,000 plants to get into the ground, it’s better to to have a team with you.

Patrick Barnes of Limitless Vistas Pens Op-Ed about Gulf Coast Restoration and Job Training for Youth

Republished From from The Times-Picayune

With Restore money, Louisiana should strengthen coast and provide job training: Patrick A. Barnes

From oiled marshes and decreased oyster harvests to rising poverty rates and loss of livelihoods, Louisiana has suffered in many ways from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Soon, we will have a chance to repair and restore both our environment and our economy, as the Restore Act sends billions of dollars in Clean Water Act fines to the Gulf Coast states.

In a number of places across the coast, the debate of how to invest this money has pitted the economy against the environment. But instead of debating false choices, why not aim to pursue both? It's actually a simple proposition: We can create new job and business opportunities by focusing on restoring our coastal and marine ecosystems.

I'm proud to join a diverse group of business leaders from across the Gulf Coast -- from the Florida Panhandle to the coast of Texas -- who agree that we need to strengthen our region's traditional industries and create new opportunities by focusing on repairing our coastal environment. More than 120 companies, operating in more than 800 locations and generating more than $20 billion in annual revenues, delivered a letter to the five Gulf Coast governors to say that a healthy ecosystem is a key to driving private sector job growth and future prosperity and fostering economic mobility.

Louisiana, under the leadership of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), deserves significant credit for connecting the dots between a healthy coastline and a stronger economic and cultural future. The Louisiana Coastal Master Plan, the result of much hard work and the support of the Legislature, will invest the funds from the spill to advance this work. That represents a model for other states along the coast.

Restoring our coastal treasures can help tackle many economic goals, including drawing more visitors, promoting thriving fisheries and making our communities more resilient in the face of future storms and sea level rise. Projects like barrier island restoration, marsh creation or oyster reef construction create a demand for a wide variety of private sector companies in the engineering, construction, transportation and manufacturing sectors.

As the president of a regional engineering firm with offices in New Orleans, I've seen first-hand what Louisiana's commitment to coastal restoration means for this growing industry and for workers. One in 12 construction jobs in Louisiana is tied to coastal restoration, according to the Louisiana Workforce Commission. Studies have found ecosystem restoration projects create between 17 and 36 jobs for every million dollars invested. These jobs run the gamut from coastal engineers and geologists to boat captains, welders and equipment operators.

In the state's master plan, our state's leadership has acknowledged the opportunity in these restoration jobs and expressed support for helping local workers gain the skills necessary to do them. This is the kind of integrated thinking we need. Many communities face significant economic obstacles; the region has suffered a sharp jump in poverty since the 2010 oil spill, and the decimation of the seafood industry has meant a serious loss of livelihoods. As a founder of the nonprofit Limitless Vistas Inc., I've worked for 20 years with disadvantaged and low income youth, giving them the skills necessary to get access to new, good-paying jobs in the environmental field. Many of these jobs do not require a four-year degree and are well suited for short-term applied and on-the-job training opportunities.

Similarly, business leaders across Louisiana and the region who supported this letter believe that our restoration plans could benefit from including efforts to prepare local, low income and disadvantaged workers for these new restoration jobs.

We have a chance to bring industry, communities and training institutions together to identify the necessary skill sets and training programs to prepare our state's workforce to conduct future restoration projects. Investing even a modest portion of Restore Act funds in this way can help address both the economic and environmental challenges and opportunities we face as a state and a region.

Patrick A. Barnes is a professional geologist, president of BFA Environmental and founder of Limitless Vistas Inc., a New Orleans-based nonprofit preparing at-risk youth for environmental jobs.