The coast is undeniably vanishing, but now there's a sea change in how it's viewed on a national level. Fifteen years ago, the pleas of state officials and conservationists went largely unheard in Washington. "People had trouble believing it was really serious," says Mark Davis, director of Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. "When you would talk to legislators they would say, 'If it's really as bad as you think it is, someone would be doing something about it.'"
Former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux's 1990 Breaux Act turned out to be a mixed blessing. The bill brings approximately $50 million a year to Louisiana for coastal restoration, but it was quickly apparent that it was merely a grain of sand toward the estimated $14 billon price tag to stop coastal erosion. Davis remembers a particularly telling 1996 attempt for additional funding. "Mid-way through the last Edwards term, sitting down with a senior scientist in Washington, we were told forget it ' Santa Claus came once to Louisiana, meaning the Breaux Act," he says. "It wasn't a national problem."
A decade later, despite the shaky status of new coastal funds at press time, there's fresh evidence that Louisiana's coastline is being identified as a national treasure much like the Everglades or Chesapeake Bay. Adam Sharp, press secretary for Sen. Mary Landrieu, credits cooperation between the congressional delegation, the governor's office, state and local leaders, and a multitude of Louisiana organizations for changing national perceptions of the problem. In particular, he pinpoints the newest member of the team, Marmillion + Company, an advertising agency hired by former Gov. Mike Foster in 2002 to craft a message and tell the story of coastal land loss.
Marmillion's clientele ranges from The American Film Institute to the Florida Department of Transportation, and the firm also handled the election campaigns of Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden, Landrieu and Breaux, who brought the firm to the attention of Foster. The state paid $45,000 for Marmillion's preliminary strategic plan.
"When we first came in," says owner Val Marmillion, "we worked with a focus group in Philadelphia. We found out from the group that no one wants a problem like this in their back yard, and that the federal government should fund some of this." Marmillion asked the group several questions:
Which state would you view as most critical to producing and transporting America's energy supply of oil and natural gas?
Which state hosts the largest habitat in America for migratory waterfowl/game birds?
Which state produces and transports the highest volume of seafood in America?
Which state is facing the greatest loss of landmass due to coastal erosion?
Through which state flows the largest concentration of pipelines feeding the nation's energy supply?
"The focus group never guessed Louisiana as the source for these things," says Marmillion. Even more troubling, Marmillion discovered that Louisiana residents were equally unaware of their state's assets.
The company developed five strategic communication objectives to be implemented over the course of three years: public education, media relations, brand and identity, building a class of cooperative organizations, and funding and development.
Coming up with an identifiable marketing brand for Louisiana's coast was his first objective. "These wetlands are like no other," says Marmillion. "Bounded by the Pearl and Sabine rivers, this huge piece of wetland is created by the flow of the Mississippi from the heartland of the country. If you overlay the migratory bird flyway with the geological span of the wetland, we are one of the major access points in America. By erasing the political boundaries, this becomes a broader, American geographical issue." Hence the name: America's Wetland.
Marmillion's strategic plan called for private donations from corporate sponsors who wanted to be identified with coastal restoration. McIlhenny Co. and Whitney Bank were the earliest sponsors, but Shell Oil's major grant of $3 million covered operations for the first three years. Shell Social Investment Manager Mary Margaret Hamilton cites Shell's operations in the Gulf of Mexico as a major factor in the company's participation. "We're vulnerable," she says. "When we don't have the wetlands as a barrier our infrastructure is at risk. The payoff is a viable coastline." Since then, additional oil and gas companies such as British Gas, ChevronTexaco, and ConocoPhillips have signed on as sponsors.
Marmillion broadened the sponsorship base to include companies as varied as the New Orleans Saints, Acadian Ambulance, Cox Communications and the newest sponsor, Gulf Coast Coca-Cola. Melanie Clark, vice-president of marketing for Gulf Coast Coca-Cola, says the franchise got involved because of the importance of the local issue. "This is where we live, this is our coastline, our back yard," she says. "Coke is a way they could get this message right into homes in Louisiana and surrounding states. We put the message in just under 4 million 12-packs that sold in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and part of Texas."
Coca-Cola included information and coupons about how individuals could help save the wetlands inside each 12-pack. Sending contributions to the campaign rewarded donors with a Save America's Wetland bracelet.
Since late May, when Coke introduced the coupons, America's Wetland has received more than 1,200 donations ranging from $2 to $250. "There wasn't an incremental cost for us to include it in our packaging," Clark adds. "It's important to support initiatives. That in itself is a payoff for us."
Marmillion projects the three-year funding goal of $7 million will be reached by the end of 2005. During 2003 and 2004 professional fees paid to Marmillion accounted for approximately about $2.1 million ' 30 percent of the total contributions to America's Wetland.
Not everybody on the team has been happy with the campaign. In mid-June, New Orleans native Walt Williams pulled his Saturday Night Live claymation cartoon character Mr. Bill out of the America's Wetland campaign. Williams' splashy public service TV spots were placed in Shell-sponsored kiosks ' where the Shell logo is prominently displayed ' in tourist destinations around the state. Williams complained that his contract, which called for no commercial connection with Mr. Bill, was being violated. "I was contributing to the campaign for free, but I was more and more being associated with Shell," he says. "People started asking me if I worked for Shell. My reputation in the environmental community is important. My personal opinion is that the oil companies are responsible for the [coastal erosion] problem, and Mr. Bill was being turned into a marketing campaign for the culprits."
Mr. Bill's withdrawal made national headlines. Williams says the media focus on Mr. Bill garnered more national attention to the campaign than the marketing strategy of America's Wetland. "Mr. Bill is a valuable commodity," he says. "Mr. Bill got all the national press."
Shell representatives declined to comment on Williams' withdrawal from the partnership, but Marmillion takes a philosophical view of the split. "In terms of Mr. Bill, we have worked with Walter before," he says. "We know he doesn't want his product to be associated with any commercial enterprise. I respect Walt's attitude."
Marmillion says that no partner in the campaign is getting all of its demands met. "We have to keep our focus on saving the wetlands," he says. "What was done in the past was mostly done with environmental permits. Beyond that, we don't need to look back. We need to stop fighting a ton of individual battles and work together."
The success of the campaign can be measured by its national profile, says Sidney Coffee, executive assistant to the governor's office for coastal activities. "If you measure it by the national press coverage ' a 23-page spread in National Geographic, stories in the Washington Post, New York Times ' they're calling us now rather than us calling them," she says. "The Louisiana coast is national news."
Coffee credits Marmillion's ability to simplify the message into focused themes. This is a place of ecological significance. This place impacts the nation's energy and economic security. She says these two sentences distill an immensely complex issue. "It allows us to talk to the man on the street or the man in Congress. It's about energy prices, putting the nation's energy at risk."
In dollar terms, the $7 million invested by sponsors could pay off to the tune of $1.5 billion over the next three years, depending on the fate of the Water Resources Development Act and Senate Energy bills.
Marmillion has recently added a third theme that adds a sense of urgency to the need for funding. "This is an emergency situation," he says. "New Orleans has been put on the list as one of the top 10 cities in the world that is poised for some environmental occurrence. We were testing to see if we had the focus right ' did people recognize the brand? Recently, CNN's piece on global warming worldwide focused in on Louisiana when it came to the U.S. That's what I call a return."
The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday will vote on a resolution that if approved would clear the way for a December ballot proposition asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax parishwide to help fund the construction of a new terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport.
Just days before the fourth anniversary of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill, the Coast Guard has moved cleanup of Louisiana's coast to a new phase, allowing BP to end its "active" efforts in the area.
Legislators still must leave their guns at the door of the Louisiana Capitol.
Sen. Fred Mills may have an "R" behind his name, but his actions in the Louisiana Legislature transcend the established boundaries of his party.
The Louisiana House overwhelmingly rejected a repeal of the state's unconstitutional anti-sodomy law Tuesday.
The Louisiana Senate sided with Gov. Bobby Jindal and the oil industry Tuesday, agreeing to void a lawsuit that a south Louisiana flood board filed against more than 90 oil and gas companies for coastal damage.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday, April 16, 2014:
Acadian rep notifies would-be supporters that an April 25 fundraiser for the embattled U.S. rep won’t go on as planned.
While it isn’t all too unusual for public bodies to have hired security present during meetings, the LPSB’s push to do so is arguably a response to the antics of one board member.
“I’m running. Why would I be raising all this money? Just to have to return it to people?”
With incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu watching from afar, and with a united Democratic Party in her corner, the fight to get the GOP officially behind Congressman Bill Cassidy is gaining just as much momentum as it is hushed controversy.
15th Judicial District Judge Durwood Conque has announced that he will not seek re-election after 27 years on the bench.
The controversial standardized tests are set to be used in third-grade through eighth-grade public school classrooms next year.
The Louisiana Senate has agreed to prohibit unmanned aircraft from flying over chemical plants, water treatment systems, telecommunications networks and other items considered "critical infrastructure" in Louisiana.
It didn’t take long for KATC TV 3 to jump all over the news of a dead body found in Girard Park, but in its rush to produce headlines, the local TV station got sloppy.
An unholy trinity of civil-society upheavalers whose first names are not Conner, Tanner or Logan are facing charges in Eunice.
Now that lawmakers have shot down efforts to cap annual interest rates for payday loans, supporters for stricter regulations of the storefront lenders are rallying behind another strategy.
The Appropriations Committee held public testimony day, letting people talk about what they like or don't like about Gov. Bobby Jindal's budget recommendations for the 2014-15 fiscal year that begins July 1.
Lafayette police are investigating the death of a 21-year-old woman whose body was found early Sunday in a drainage ditch in Girard Park.
Former Grant parish District Attorney Ed Tarpley says he's running for the U.S. House seat currently held by Republican Vance McAllister of Swartz.
Louisiana-Lafayette got strong starting pitching and timely hitting to hold off Arkansas-Little Rock 6-3 in Sun Belt Conference baseball in Lafayette, La.
Chris Williams knows how to pilfer from the public coffers, this time with a back-pay lawsuit filed three years ago against the Lafayette Housing Authority, which netted the former city-parish councilman a cool five figures.
McAllister's office vowed that he intended to stay in office — for now. As for questions about whether he would stand for re-election in November, those were dodged.
The Green Army's Lafayette brigade has announced it will pay a visit Friday morning to Sen. Page Cortez to urge him to vote against Sen. Robert Adley's SB 553, which the group is calling the "Big Oil Bailout Bill of 2014."