Brain power needed to rebuild state's coast

BATON ROUGE -- Louisiana's coastal restoration efforts will need a continuous supply of well-trained workers over the next 30 years, including thousands of scientists, engineers, social scientists and lawyers, speakers attending a summit on coastal education said Wednesday.

The summit, called to outline the state's education needs related to restoration, was sponsored by America's WETLAND, a public-relations effort to raise awareness of issues involving the state's eroding coastline.

State and federal officials hope to get Congress this year to authorize between $1 billion and $2 billion over five to 10 years to begin a variety of restoration projects. State officials say the restoration effort will last as long as 30 years and could cost as much as $14 billion.

"Where do we find the experts and the technology to stay above water?" asked Len Bahr, director of Applied Coastal Science in the Governor's Office of Coastal Activities. He said more than 12,000 trained professionals are needed to handle the demand by both government and private industry.

That demand provides opportunities as well as challenges for the state's universities, said William Jenkins, president of the Louisiana State University System.

"The state, if it's going to be successful, has to approach this as another Manhattan Project," said University of Louisiana-Lafayette history professor Carl Brasseaux, director of the university's Center for Cultural and Eco-Tourism.

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By Mark Schleifstein