Protecting People, Property and Our Way of Life

State looks to help communities adapt to land loss

April 4, 2017

By:  Garrett Ohlmeyer, DailyComet.com

 

No matter what the master coastal plan is able to accomplish over the next 50 years, Louisiana is going to lose land, especially in areas closest to the coast, officials said Tuesday at a public forum in Lafourche Parish.

LA SAFE, or Louisiana’s Strategic Adaptation for Future Environments, is a policy framework that accompanies Louisiana’s $50 billion coastal master plan. The goal is to understand what the plan could accomplish and complement it by formulating a plan for how coastal parishes will adapt to the rapid land loss in the meantime.

The plan will be created after seeking input from residents of communities in six parishes to find out what they think is most important to preserve and improve.

Officials and residents noted a migration from southern areas of Lafourche to northern or central areas, like Mathews, which saw a 13 percent population increase from 2000 to 2010.

One Lafourche resident, Louise St. Pierre, said she eventually decided to move to Thibodaux after working for South Lafourche High school as an accountant for 33 years.

“When I was a little girl going down to Leeville, you’d see trees and plants and all kinds of stuff alongside the road,” St. Pierre said. “And as I got older, (there was) less and less, and now there’s just a branch every once in a while of an old oak tree that used to be there.”

Nick Matherne, project manager with CB&I and a Lafourche representative with LA SAFE, said he understands people’s frustration when they hear representatives from Washington and Baton Rouge say what needs to be done to Lafourche Parish.

“This is a great opportunity we have in this LA SAFE program as residents, where the state is coming in and saying, ‘Hey guys, we have the resources to help you determine what you’re going to do, what you want your parish to look like and how you want to be resilient,’ ” Matherne said.

Some said it would be cheaper and more efficient to relocate people who live in places that are expected to be underwater within the next 50 years rather than spending money to delay what appears inevitable.

Matthew Sanders, a spokesperson for the state program, said Louisiana has never been in the business of telling anybody to relocate, but that it is the state’s job to inform the public on the best information and research available.

The majority of people at the meeting said preserving the Cajun culture and southern hospitality should be a high priority moving forward.

While the coastal master plan will focus mostly on restoration and structural protection, LA SAFE focuses primarily on adaptation, which is a somewhat new concept, said Sanders.

If the coastal plan is implemented, some areas could see an increase in land from sediment diversion and other factors in the future; however, the coast will still lose land faster than it can gain it, Sanders said.

The plan identifies about eight communities that won’t be viable places to live in the next 50 years. Sanders said LA SAFE will help formulate a plan to figure out what to do with those communities and other communities that have developed or will develop high flood risk.

“We have to have hard conversations as a state,” Sanders said before the meeting. “The state is not going to leave anybody behind, it’s not going to abandon anybody. We’re going to do all we can to work with those communities that are mostly at risk to develop a better series of outcomes, and that’s what this is about.”