Stirling Properties CEO Marty Mayer is leading a group of top local businesspeople fighting to save our coast.
On June 2, the state legislature passed the 2017 Louisiana Coastal Master Plan. The third revision of the plan since 2007, this version calls for 124 projects to be created that will build or maintain 800 square miles of land.
Both the federal and Louisiana state government have declared Louisiana’s land loss a national crisis. According to a study released on July 12 by the U.S. Geological Survey, between 1932 and 2016, Louisiana lost 2,006 square miles of land (plus or minus 171 square miles).
While land loss has slowed a bit recently — something the study attributes mainly to the fact that Louisiana hasn’t seen a major hurricane since 2008 — that could obviously change quickly, and thanks to global warming the report notes that sea level change is “expected to increase at an exponential rate.”
With so much clearly on the line, back in 2014 GNO Inc. announced the launch of the Coalition for Coastal Resilience and Economy (CCRE), a business-led coalition to serve as a non-partisan voice of advocacy for sustainable restoration efforts. Chaired by Marty Mayer, president and CEO of Stirling Properties, the CCRE has spent the last three years bringing the voices of some of the region’s top business leaders into the discussion.
Since its inception, the CCRE has supported the proposed master plan. Mayer praised its passing for creating funding that allows the state to “have a unique opportunity to ensure the stability of our coast and protect our economic assets.”
In a recent discussion with Biz New Orleans, Mayer talked more about the CCRE and the role business must, and is, playing in trying to save our coastline.
We’ve heard over and over about how we’re losing a football field an hour of our coastline, which was just recently amended to a football field every 100 minutes. Is that really true? How would you describe the scope of the problem?
The analogy of the football field is basically an accurate measurement on average and it’s been helpful to convey the problem in a way anyone can understand. Basically, the problem is an existential threat to not only our coastline, but our culture and way of life. I also like to remind people that we have one of the few working coastlines of any state in the country. That’s very unique about Louisiana.
What made you want to get involved with the CCRE? Why is it important for business to be involved in this issue?
The idea of this coalition was born out of a dialogue I had been having with Michael [Hecht] and Robin [Barnes] and others at GNO about the importance of raising awareness of coastal issues in business. Certainly a lot of environmental groups are tackling the issue, but the feeling was that there was a vacuum in that there was no non-partisan business group involved where none of us have a vested business interest, none of us benefit from coastal restoration work.
The idea of having a business group involved was that we felt we could help in two ways. First we can spread the word. Our goal has been to use our voices and connections in a way that will hopefully protect the funding that has already been earmarked for coastal restoration, for example GOMESA (Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act) gives us royalties from offshore oil and BP fines.
Second, we are in a position to advocate for other legislative policy issues that may end up expediting the permitting process of these projects that are designed to help.
Do you feel you’ve been successful?
I think we have. In speaking to those in government, we’ve been hearing that they’re happy to see business coming together as a unified voice. Thus far, with support from both our past and current governor, we have protected the state funding. I feel good about that.
On the national side, we met with the former Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker, and actually took the former Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Shaun Donovan, on a flyover during the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Through those efforts, we were able to expedite the permit process for the Mid-Barataria sediment diversion — get that placed on the dashboard.
Unfortunately, the Army Corp of Engineering subsequently decided to delay the permitting for two years in order to study the project, so what was a success turned into frustration.
How were members recruited?
We really thought strategically when it came to creating the council. We wanted to ensure a diversity of industry and geographic interests so we didn’t really recruit as much as hand pick people. Right now we cover Houma/Thibodeaux, Baton Rouge and New Orleans. We’re thinking of going to Southwest Louisiana next. We wanted senior people that were influential in their own fields.
What was the most shocking thing you’ve learned while being on the coalition?
I’ll never forget the first seaplane flyover tour I took after starting this role. I’m a native born Louisianan and I’ve heard over and over about the problem, like all of us have, so you know these things in your head but until you see it for yourself it’s difficult to visualize. Immediately after we took off, all of a sudden, we were over marshes that you can tell are dying just on the other side of New Orleans. You can see how close the water has come compared to looking at maps from just 50 years ago.
What was the first task of the coalition? How often have you met?
The first task was to educate ourselves. None of us are scientists and we didn’t want to be. Here, we were definitely assisted by partners like the National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense Fund and Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. We did a lot of flyovers and airboat tours to diversion projects currently taking place so we could visualize the progress of work that has already been done.
I’d say all of that took up pretty much our entire first year of existence. It was a big job to try and understand the complexity of the problem and figure out where we could focus our efforts to make the biggest impact. When we started the coalition we didn’t have a specific mission, it was formed as we went along.
Regarding the meetings, from the time we were first formed we realized that the coalition was going to be filled with really busy people. The idea was not to gather a group of people and meet and talk about things, it was to be able to call on these people to use their sphere of influence when it was needed.
That being said, we have what we call “non-meetings” three or four times a year and in between Robin [Barnes] and Lacy [McManus] provide periodic updates.
What were the coaliton’s biggest challenges?
When we were first formed and going through the education process we were somewhat bombarded by special interest groups who wanted us to take a stand on science that they didn’t agree with in regards to specific projects that they felt would affect their business or industry negatively — basically to take a stand against the master plan. From the beginning we have felt the science used to create the master plan is the best science. Our job is to be advocates for the plan.
The second biggest challenge is one we’re still working through. Right now on the national perspective, our president and this administration have prioritized infrastructure, so we’re trying to figure out the best way to communicate the fact that this coastal restoration work also represents one of largest infrastructure projects affecting the entire U.S.
Where is the funding coming from for these projects?
It comes from a number of sources, primarily in the next 15 years it will come from the BP settlement — $8.7 billion. Then you have the ongoing revenues we receive from offshore oil and gas —about $100 million year. It’s enough to get some of these projects going.
Are there political issues still to be addressed? Locally? Nationally?
Absolutely — every time a budget crisis comes up, which seems to be annually, there’s that temptation to use the funds earmarked for coastal restoration to plug a hole somewhere else. In doing that, all we’re doing is robbing ourselves of a future.
In an article by John Barry published in the New York Times a few years ago he talked about how local industry, especially oil, gas and pipelines, has been a “major cause of land loss” and the state has a history of not doing much in the way of holding them responsible. Is that being addressed in any way?
There’s no question that erosion has been caused by a number of sources, but maybe most importantly was when the levees were built after the 1927 flood. They were built to channel the river to protect the surrounding areas and citizens, but they also prevented the river from doing what the river wants to do, which is dump sediment. I think it’s counterproductive to assess blame for past action. Oil and gas have a huge vested interest in coastal infrastructure and they’re currently investing huge amounts in it. I feel it’s preferable to work with industry. They can be a huge asset.
Michael Hecht, GNO, Inc.’s president and CEO said the passages of the two plans will also create a new industry, growing the water sector by 22 percent by 2026 and providing close to 36,000 high-paying jobs. Can you talk a bit about this economic opportunity?
Sure. We believe Louisiana can become a hub for this kind of work. Some members of the coalition have gone over to the Netherlands, where they’re doing cutting edge science as far as dealing with water. In addition, the Water Institute of the Gulf in Baton Rouge actually just announced a partnership with the largest nonprofit in the Netherlands to study their work.
We’re already being called on for our experience and skills in this area. For instance, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Louisiana companies won reconstruction contracts worth some $225 million.
Now that the master plan has passed, what is the coalition’s future role?
Right now we’ve added two more strategic initiatives. One is a financing committee. The goal is to find creative ways to help secure long-term sustainable financing for these projects. Right now the funding has a lifespan of about 15 years, but these projects are going to go on a lot longer than that. They’re generational. We’re working with various foundations in other states as well to find ways to source financing.
We’ve also created an education task force that Ben Hales is chairing. The goals of that are two fold. First, we’re trying to educate the general population and certainly future generations about the importance of saving our coast — make it part of our basic curriculum. We’ve been working with schools and guidance counselors and organizations like the children’s museum.
The second goal of the education task force is to coordinate curriculum for the jobs that are going to be created, which are not too dissimilar to oil and gas. These are going to be high skill and middle skill jobs like civil and environmental engineers, welders, pipe fitters and machine operators. It’s a whole new industry for South Louisiana.
Finally, regarding Stirling Properties, what can you share regarding recent accomplishments and plans for the future?
There are so many things! More than ever we’re looking at disruptors of industry – things like artificial intelligence, e-commerce, driverless cars. We spend a lot of time thinking about how these things affect us. For instance, we have for a long time been known for our retail and office portfolio, but recently we have begun diversifying into medical development.
For instance, we recently bought the Louisiana Heart Hospital in Lacombe, which is going to be opening as a post-acute care hospital operated by a partnership of Ochsner, St. Tammany and Slidell Memorial hospitals. We’re also ready to open an emergency clinic in Laplace and we’re building an $80 million micro-campus and hospital for Ochsner at The Grove in Baton Rouge. We really see this as a growth area for the future.
The full text of the 2017 Louisiana Coastal Master Plan can be found at Coastal.la.gov.
Get to know marty mayer
Favorite book? I usually gravitate toward historical biographies — most recently Hamilton and Lincoln. One book I go back to regularly and read is “ The Alchemist.”
Favorite TV Show? I don’t watch any regular tv shows — occasionally I will binge watch a mini-series. I watched Genius:Einstein last weekend.
Who do you look up to? My mom was the person I looked up to the most, and in many ways still do. She always made every person she met feel truly important and special.
Biggest life lesson learned? The most important thing isn’t what you do for a living or how much money you make, but rather how many people’s lives you have touched.
Best advice ever received? Attitude, attitude, attitude.
Hobbies? Biking, swimming and painting in my art studio at home.
Daily habits? Meditation
Pet peeve(s)? Selfishness
What are you most looking forward to in the next year? My youngest daughter’s wedding to a special young man.
Funding in Danger
In a July 11 letter to President Trump, GNO Inc., the Coast Builders Coalition and 283 leaders of businesses, industry trade associations, municipal governments, economic development groups, civic groups, ports and sportsmen’s organizations called upon the president to withdraw his administration’s fiscal year 2018 proposal to repeal funding to the Gulf States currently mandated by law under the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA).
In addition to providing figures that describe all the ways in which Louisiana supports the U.S. economy, the letter describes the damage that could be done to the state economy without those funds.
Without the funds: Up to $138 billion in damages from each major storm
$11.2 billion in business disruptions and loss of assets due to land loss.
With the funds: support nearly 60,000 jobs over the next 10 years and $1.4 to $1.5 billion in annual output.
Members of the CCRE
Justin Augustine, Veolia • Dale Benoit, Print-All, Inc.• Sharon Bergeron, Coastal Commerce Bank • Dickie Brennan, Dickie Brennan & Company • Chett C. Chiasson, Greater Lafourche Port Commission • Donna Fraiche, Baker Donelson’s Louisiana offices, Former Board Member of the Louisiana Recovery Authority • Felicia Frederick, Chevron • Philip Gunn, Postlethwaite & Netterville • Will Hales, Iberia Bank • Tara Hernandez, JCH Development • Merritt Lane, Canal Barge Company, Inc. • Jay Lapeyre, Laitram LLC • Dennis Lauscha, New Orleans Saints and Pelicans • Pat LeBlanc, LeBlanc Butler • G.F. Gay Le Breton, Chaffe & Associates • Marty Mayer, Stirling Properties • Brandon Nelson, Whitney Bank • Dan Pancamo, Phelps Dunbar • Mark Spansel, Adams & Reese • Lizette Terral, JP Morgan Chase Bank • Mickey Thomas, South Louisiana Bank • Hank Torbert, EnergyX Accelerator • Ian Voparil, Shell Deepwater Gulf of Mexico