The island in Terrebonne Parish once stretched 11 miles long and five miles wide. What’s left is a parcel of land almost certainly unrecognizable to those who settled the area in the 19th century. Now cut down to just a quarter-mile wide and not even two miles long, most of the population has fled the encroaching Gulf waters.
The theme may be a reoccurring one in coastal Louisiana for many years to come, according to a study published by researchers with the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy.
“Community Resettlement Prospects in Southeast Louisiana” was published in September with a focus on areas in Louisiana outside structural protections in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan.
According to the study, “even if every project in the Plan is funded and works as intended, there will still be a large number of Louisianans displaced by sea level rise, storms, erosion, and, perhaps, by the planned projects themselves.”
The authors concluded relocation, or the movement of individuals, away from the coastline is “inevitable,” and is already gradually taking place.
The study assumes resettlement, or the movement of entire communities, would be the preferred method of dispersal among Louisianans faced with the decision to move due to the “strong ties to place and community.”
The study also determines, however, given the history of failed intervention by government in the past, local communities would likely have a distrust of programs intended to move them.
The $50 billion master plan does have measures to help those outside structural protections. Individual relocation is, indeed, being considered on a voluntary basis, but resettlement of entire communities is not an option being discussed by state officials.
“The master plan is not focusing on or suggesting certain communities need to relocate,” said Jerome Zeringue, former Terrebonne levee director who now heads the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.
The Flood Risk and Resilience Program would instead funnel $10 billion in master plan money to several non-structural projects to increase “flood risk awareness” and support “state-level policies that promote greater resilience across the coast.”
Non-structural projects would include adding protections to future buildings, including ordinances and building codes; increasing awareness of future flood risks; and adding safeguards to existing buildings like flood proofing and elevation. Voluntary acquisition of structures and relocation is also an option.
“We cannot protect everyone from everything,” Zeringue said. “There are vulnerabilities with living on the coast. We can achieve risk reduction and resilience with a combination of restoration projects or non-structural methods.”
Zeringue said the master plan doesn’t list particular communities that would potentially need to face voluntary acquisition, and that would be up to the individual communities and residents. Though the master plan recommends acquisition for structures that would need to be elevated more than 18 feet to reach the Federal Emergency Management Agency Base Flood Elevation.
At this point, what the program will look like and where exactly dollars will go is still yet to be decided, said Karim Belhadjali, who is involved with the non-structural program at the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.
Zeringue admits the non-structural component was one of the weaker parts of the master plan, and the state is working on it for the 2017 updated plan.
“In 2017 we are definitely working to improve and clarify and identify projects related to non-structural,” he said.
Zeringue said his agency will be meeting with communities in 2015 to address non-structural risks.
“We can work with them now before it’s to the point of no return,” he said. The CPRA is acting to “be proactive in the approach to help increase resiliency if communities choose to start considering… some form of relocation — that’s left to communities.”