Legal Program Part of Louisiana Sea Grant’s 50 Years of Service
Louisiana Sea Grant (LSG) boasts the oldest legal program in the country, established in 1970. Originally, called the Louisiana Sea Grant Legal Program, today, its moniker is the Louisiana Sea Grant Law and Policy Program (SGLPP).
“In the beginning, the legal program was housed in the sub-basement of the old law building at LSU,” said Mike Wascom, who served as the program’s director from 1980 to 1998. Marc Hershman, who passed away in 2008, was the legal program’s first director.
“The goal was to answer legal questions related to coastal and oceanic issues for state and local government agencies and the Louisiana public,” Wascom said. “Marc’s legal program was so successful it was copied by several other state Sea Grant programs over the years, and it has left its permanent imprint on Louisiana where it is still going strong nearly 48 years later.”
“Marc’s chief legal interest was laying the groundwork for the new Coastal Zone Management Program that had been passed by Congress in 1972,” Wascom said. The SGLPP was instrumental in drafting the legislation that became the Louisiana Coastal Resources Management Program, assisting the Office of Coastal Management in legal matters, and it continues to work with state and local officials on issues concerning the Coastal Zone.
Louisiana’s first coastal zone boundary was established in 1978 following multi-agency research which included Louisiana Sea Grant Legal and several years of political negotiations during which the SGLLP provided valuable legal information to lawmakers. State coastal zones stem from the federal Coastal Zone Management Act, which encourages and provides incentives for governing bodies to preserve, protect and, where possible, restore and enhance natural coastal resources such as wetlands, floodplains, beaches, barrier islands and coral reefs.
“During the 2009 state legislative session, a resolution passed asking the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to conduct a new science-based study on the adequacy of the 1978 inland Coastal Zone boundary,” said Jim Wilkins, SGLPP’s current director. “The purpose of the study was to determine if the boundary met current and future needs when it comes to managing, protecting and restoring our coast and serving its human inhabitants.”
The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Coastal Management took the lead on that study and worked with SGLPP staff, as well as others, to draft findings and recommendations on how to redefine the Coastal Zone and its boundaries. In 2012, the Louisiana Legislature redrew the state’s Coastal Zone based on the study and increased the management area by around 2,000 square miles.
“The changes more accurately reflect the most up-to-date scientific understanding of the functioning and complex systems that shape Louisiana’s Coastal Zone,” noted Wilkins. “Sea Grant Law and Policy was happy to participate in the Coastal Zone boundary study, as well as participate in other research on topics like recreational servitudes over private water bottoms or the state’s water laws.
“We’re a resource for state and local agencies, as well as coastal residents. We don’t advocate for one side or the other. We provide information and options when it comes to law and policy issues,” Wilkins said.
Advancing Fisheries Industries through Legislation
Louisiana’s oyster farmers are free to experiment with different methods of growing the mollusks thanks to a law that opens state-owned waters to alternative oyster culture, including off-bottom techniques.
Working with attorneys for the state, SGLLP helped draft language that became Act 293 of the 2012 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature. The law allows the use of state water bottoms for alternative oyster culture as a legal use, lays out the process for obtaining permits and allows for alternative methods of oyster culture on qualified existing leases. In all, SGLLP spent ten years helping with legal issues and draft legislation that satisfied all parties – which included oil and gas companies, land owners, oyster growers and regulatory agencies – and simplified the permitting process.
Until the law was passed in 2012, oyster growers had to raise their crop the same way it has been done for thousands of years – on the water bottom and exposed to predators. With off-bottom culture, oysters are grown in mesh bags suspended from floats on the water surface or a cable between pilings. They’re protected from predators and can easily be exposed to air to help prevent disease and fouling.
“The off-bottom systems we’ve looked at for Louisiana are used commercially in other parts of the world,” said John Supan, recently retired LSG Oyster Lab director. “People are making money with them, and they’re recovering more of the oysters they put in the water. One of my former graduate students conducted an industry survey and found, on average, less than 35 percent of the oysters planted using traditional methods make it to harvest. With off-bottom culture, every oyster you put into the water your get back, although with some mortality.”
“Louisiana and federal agencies charged with protecting natural resources and navigable waters were skeptical that farming oysters in any other way besides the traditional one was a good idea and could meet legal requirements” Wilkins said. “It took a lot of hard ground work by our team and the state attorneys to turn things around.”
Outreach to All
Change is a constant for SGLPP. And since 1971, the program has been keeping Louisiana Sea Grant’s constituency apprised of changes in the law and issues affecting the state’s coast through the Louisiana Coastal Law (LCL) newsletter.
The newsletter was created to “develop a consciousness toward coordination and cooperation in using the coastal marshlands and estuaries of Louisiana and to explore the role of law in promoting coordination and cooperation,” the first issue stated. “We will act as a forum and information source for the continuing dialogue on the broader policy issues of managing resource use and activity in coastal Louisiana.”
The newsletter contains legal analyses of state and federal court cases and coastal issues currently affecting the state. And, it keeps readers up-to-day on recently enacted state laws and regulations.
“With technological advances and the flood of information available now, some newsletters of this type have gone completely to a digital platform. We publish the LCL digitally but realize there are still people who need and want a printed copy, so we still publish a paper version, as well. That is costlier, so our frequency has been reduced a little, but the LCL is still a valuable part of our program.” Wilkins said.
Along with the hardcopy version of Louisiana Coastal Law, email updates are available between printings. Copies of past email updates and the printed newsletter are available online at www.laseagrant.org/sglegal/publications/.
Other outreach publications produced by SGLPP are written for the typical coastal resident.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, followed by Hurricanes Gustav and Hurricane Ike in 2008, devastated much of coastal Louisiana. To help residents better weather hurricanes and tropical storms, SGLPP developed the Louisiana Homeowners Handbook to Prepare for Natural Hazards.
The handbook explains the forces of nature that act on structures during storms, including the dangers associated with high winds, heavy rains and storm surge. It further lays out ways to gird a home against these forces to minimize or negate their effects, as well as information on how to reduce the human toll exacted by dangerous storms.
“There is information on preparing evacuation plans and kits, construction practices, retrofitting, shutter styles, insurance and emergency contact numbers. Basically, everything a homeowner needs to know in coastal Louisiana to be best prepared for coastal hazards,” said Melissa Daigle, resiliency specialist with SGLPP.
More than 19,000 copies of the handbook have been distributed. It also is available for download from www.laseagrant.org/wp-content/uploads/LA_Homeowners_Handbook_v3.pdf.
Education and Experience
As SGLP director, Hershman had a professorial appointment at LSU’s law school. Along with teaching land-use law, he created a coastal zone management law course which was open to law students and non-law graduate students alike – a truly multidisciplinary course. Wilkins continues that legacy and teaches the course today.
“The Coastal Zone Management course is a unique interdisciplinary experience for students interested in coastal natural resource and environmental management, law and policy. I teach the course with Paul Kemp, a coastal geomorphologist, to give the students insight into why resource management is based on scientific information as well as how it is managed from a legal perspective,” Wilkins said.
SGLPP’s education activities go beyond the classroom. Since its inception the SGLPP interns and externs program has provided more than 150 law school students from LSU, Southern and Tulane with hands-on, real-world experience on coastal and environmental issues.
Intern research projects cover a wide range of topics that affect one or more of LSG’s four focus areas: Healthy Coastal Ecosystems; Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture; Resilient Communities and Economies; and Environmental Literacy and Workforce Development. Some of those research projects are turned into articles for publication in the Louisiana Coastal Law newsletter. Some students also have written law review articles based on their work with SGLPP.
“At Louisiana Sea Grant, we were confronted with a wide spectrum of issues that at first glance did not mesh, but over time we learned the interdisciplinary nature of the issues surrounding the Louisiana coast. We saw firsthand how no single interest group could address issues without taking into account other groups,” said Beaux Jones, an SGLPP intern in 2009-10.
“This was a necessary lesson to learn and prepared me for my work with the state while I was an assistant attorney general serving as environmental section chief. While representing the State of Louisiana in environmental issues, I had to constantly recognize and understand the many different interest groups and parties affected by decisions made at the state level. Working for the Law & Policy Program taught me that I had to approach my job in a holistic manner that looks at the coast as a far-reaching, dynamic ecosystem with many lives and livelihoods at stake,” Jones said.
“The SGLPP internship is a tremendous opportunity for future lawyers to train under some of the best coastal law minds in the country and to develop the skills that may be otherwise ignored in a more traditional clerkship,” Jones added. “If I were making a hiring decision and the candidate was an SGLPP alum, they would move to the top of this list.”
Jones joined the New Orleans law firm of Baldwin, Haspel, Burke and Mayer in 2017.
SGLPP’s activities listed here are a fraction of the program’s overall impact during its nearly a half-century existence. We would like to hear of your experiences with Louisiana Sea Grant – which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2018 – and the Law and Policy Program. You can submit your comments to www.surveymonkey.com/r/BLR3CG2, as well as photos you want to share. Comments and photos will be featured during an anniversary event in the Fall of 2018, and also may be shared throughout the year online.
To learn more about the founding of Louisiana Sea Grant, visit www.laseagrant.org/2018/lsg-marks-half-century/.