The New Chairman of CPRA Ready to Shake Things Up

bradberryWhen newly elected Governor John Bel Edwards announced that Johnny Bradberry would be his new point person on coastal issues, there was a lot of curiosity among coastal activists and stakeholders. After all, Bradberry had spent his entire career in the private sector except for a stint as Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Development in Governor Kathleen Blanco’s Administration. During his time at DOTD, Bradberry forged a reputation as a highly organized and results-oriented taskmaster who placed a high premium on project prioritization, management, and completion. That approach was on display and credited for a lot of the quick recovery following the immediate aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Plucked from the private sector once again – most recently from Volkert, Inc., an engineering and environmental, firm where he served as vice president of business development – Bradberry left no doubt about who will be in charge of overseeing billions of dollars of state and federal funding to manage the state’s coastline. He accepted the position only after the Administration removed existing ambiguity announcing him as the Governor’s Executive Assistant for Coastal Activities and Chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, as well as having oversight responsibility of the CPRA Implementation Organization.

In his first major interview after his appointment, Bradberry sat down with CRCL to talk about the approach and philosophy that will guide his decision-making as we enter an exciting new phase of implementation of the state coastal master plan. Bradberry, 66, a native of Grand Isle and one of 14 siblings, is a son of coastal Louisiana. Our interview reveals a man motivated to rebuild our coast on behalf of the people and communities that call it home.

CRCL: Mr. Chairman, congratulations on the new position, and thanks so much for talking with us. First off, you are a native of south Louisiana. Could you tell us about growing up on the coast.

Bradberry: Well, I’m from Grand Isle, and was born right up LA-30 in Golden Meadow at the nearest hospital. I grew up surrounded by the marsh and played there as child. I walked it, fished it, and hunted in it. So I know the marsh well and have always been attuned to life there. I don’t think that qualifies me for this job in and of itself. But when people talk about hurricanes and the damage they leave behind . . . and when they talk about seeing the marsh disappear before their very eyes, I can relate to all of that. I understand the worries and challenges that the oystermen and the shrimpers face because I’ve been there, you know. I’ve fished oysters by hand from a pirogue, and shrimped with fishermen. Of course, I’ve done a lot of recreational fishing and hunting too. I’ve lived a good portion of my life on the coast and I know it well. So when I speak about it, I’m speaking from first-hand experience.

CRCL: Let’s talk about the people who live on the coast, and how important it is not to forget the communities and the people as we progress through restoration.

Bradberry: Well, I come from a very large family like a lot of other large families that live all along our coast, from Calcasieu Parish all the way to Plaquemines. The people who live there are pretty sensitive to their environment and actions that affect their livelihood. I think it’s imperative that we engage these people directly and involve them in the process of rebuilding our coast. So part of my philosophy is to do just that—to listen, to engage them in whatever way is best, and to allow them to bring ideas and thoughts to the forefront. Because, believe me, they’ve got a lot of good ideas. No one knows the coast better than they do. We owe it to them to include them in the process because what we do has a profound effect on their livelihood and way of life.

CRCL: What are your priorities as you enter the job?

Bradberry: I have seven main priorities and principles that are going to guide me and the department in all our work.

  1. Have a sense of urgency. We only have one shot at this and we’ve got to get it right. There are situations where we have only a short window of opportunity to act before things become irreversible. At some point, if we wait too long we won’t be able to effectively restore some places no matter how good our science is or much money we throw at it. Let me try to explain that a little bit more. In order for us to take advantage of that window of opportunity, we’ve got to balance science with common sense. From a scientific perspective, we can study things all day long if we choose to. We have to really be careful because scientists and engineers have a tendency to do that. So my job, as I see it, is to make sure we maintain that proper balance between the time we take on studying a problem, until the time we make a decision on a course of action and then implement, design, and construct.

  2. Manage our dollars properly and effectively. First and foremost, we’ve got to demonstrate to the public that we’re spending our money wisely. And that’s a big task. We’ve got to assure the federal government that we are following all laws that have been implemented and demonstrate to them that we spent the money wisely. That’s absolutely critical in this whole process. If we do that well, we’ll be able to leverage our dollars to do more projects. The 2012 Master Plan estimates that restoring our coast will cost about $50 billion. The 2017 plan is currently being developed and will certainly come in higher that that. Today we’ve only got about $10 billion identified to work with. Obviously that’s not nearly enough to do what the master plan says we need to do. So how do we take the money that we have, and the opportunities we have, and leverage that? Will we bond some of it? Do we enter into private-public partnerships? I don’t know. But I do know that we’ve got to be efficient and effective with the money we do have. The degree of transparency and accountability we demonstrate will be critical to the entire process.

  3. Get results. That’s the bottom line. It’s one thing to sit here and talk a good game and all that, but at the end of the day, if we don’t make progress it doesn’t matter. As I’ve done in the past in leadership positions, I’ve concentrated these first weeks on making sure that I’ve got an organization in place that is focused and has the right culture to deliver results.

  4. Build a culture of continuous improvement. It’s very important to me that we continue to get better as we do this work. This group already performs at a high level, but my goal is for us to be exceptional at what we do by being accountable to the public, our partners, our leadership and each other. We are going to raise performance and improve upon teamwork with our key partners at the Corps (of Engineers), the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the levee districts and the NGOs. We’ll incorporate best practices at every level and recognize success. And then we can document those results and demonstrate the performance and the progress that we’ve made.

  5. Operate transparently while we improve upon contracting. We are going to revisit out contracting process to assure that Louisiana contractors are getting a fair shot to compete for opportunities. We are going to optimize the entire process for both the state and for companies interested in this work. We are going to do a much better job to communicate our system and ensure transparency and fairness at every point in the process.

  6. Make Progress on diversions. It’s important we understand all the issues around diversions. We’ve got to accelerate the science, and at the same time, strengthen our public engagement. We’re going to listen and consider all the opinions, and then address the public’s concerns directly. We are going to push permitting, accelerate design, and again, address public concerns. These are huge projects that approach a billion dollars plus apiece. We’ve got to get these projects moving as quickly as possible by pushing the process and engaging the public each and every step of the way.

  7. Build upon our reputation. There is a great team in place here and I’m privileged to have the opportunity to lead it. I can tell you that in all our efforts, we will work to continue to be recognized as a top performing organization. We are going to earn respect by continuing to strengthen a culture that exemplifies integrity and professionalism.

CRCL: In your mind, what is the role of NGOs like CRCL?

Bradberry: Well, your organization plays a critical role in ideas that you bring to the table, and by helping engage the public. If we have the same message, then obviously more than one person communicating that message to the masses is a lot better than a single person. I’m really going to try to lean on the NGOs to help us advance the ideas we have, and help communicate our commitment to the public in what we’re trying to do. We’re all working toward the same goal. However, some NGOs may be more restoration focused, and have issues regarding how much money, how much time and how much effort we’re placing on protection – which is our mission as well. It’s my job to assure them that our priorities are in order and we’re going to do the things we need to do to achieve that balance.
CRCL: How do you see the partnership working with the Army Corps of Engineers or the federal government in general?

Bradberry: You know the history between the Corps and the state, at least in recent history, hasn’t been as good as I think it should be for various reasons. Back when I was secretary at DOTD, I felt throughout the Hurricane Katrina and Rita, that we had a pretty productive relationship with the Corps They had taken a lot of flak for design and failures and so forth. But I realized early on that we weren’t going to get anything done or make much progress if we are at each other’s throats. There’s a lot of value in making sure you have a good relationship. I want to take what’s been done in the last few years and sort of turn that around and find a partnership that’s a win-win. There’s no doubt that we’re going to have our differences and things are not always going to be rosy. But that doesn’t mean that we have to beat up on each other. It means that if we build a good relationship and have good team work, then together we can find a solution to a problem and make the process move a lot quicker.

CRCL: Chairman Bradberry, thank you for taking the time to talk with us. We really appreciate your dedication to coastal restoration and protection. We wish you the best in your challenging new role. We look forward to working closely with you and your team as we move into this period of ambitious implementation.

Return to Coast Currents - March 2016

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