Offiicals ill-prepared to help those outside of levee system, Tulane study finds

Tulane researchers recently sought the answer to a question the coastal-restoration community usually avoids: What happens to people and towns if state fails in its efforts to prevent the Gulf of Mexico from swallowing southeastern Louisiana?

Their findings were not encouraging:

  • Even if the 50-year, $50 billion master plan works as intended, a large number of residents will be forced out of their homes by rising waters due to rising sea levels and sinking land.
  • Neither the state nor federal governments have begun studying how to help relocate or resettle families and businesses that will likely be displace.
  • The track record for such resettlements and relocation programs is dismal, as is public acceptance of their goals.
  • The need to relocate will fall most heavily on those least able to handle the crisis — disadvantaged minority communities living in areas with high flood risk.

The report, “Community Resettlement Prospects in Southeast Louisiana” by the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law & Policy, assumes communities that fall outside the protection of levees and floodwalls in the Master Plan for the Coast 2012 would eventually be forced to move. Southeast Louisiana, with an average elevation of 3 feet, is expected to experience up to 4.5 feet of sea level rise by 2100 because the delta that comprises it is sinking while the Gulf is rising.

The authors believe residents of this region will be part of a massive climate-driven migration despite the state’s coastal restoration and protection efforts.

“The mechanisms and plans in place for protecting coastal communities appear to be unsustainable, unfunded, unrealistic or insufficient,” they conclude.

In fact, the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s Master Plan concedes not all communities can be protected with levees and floodwalls. Instead, it proposes to spend $10 billion helping those outside such structural defenses adapt to rising flood risks with  “non-structural programs” such as elevating buildings and flood-proofing critical infrastructure.

But while the agency admits “voluntary relocation and acquisition measures” may become necessary, it doesn’t list which communities should be looking at those options. Instead, it offers only to “support citizens facing change and to handle disruptions with sensitive and fairness.”

The Tulane team said it simply looked at the maps forecasting sea level rise across the southeastern coast, then addressed the communities outside the levees and floodwalls.

The researchers said the history of forced migrations can be divided into two categories.

“Relocation” is the movement of individuals due to environmental hazards. The report points out this is already underway in southeast Louisiana as homeowners leave areas prone to hurricane damage and rising insurance costs.

“Resettlement” is the attempt to move entire communities – including small towns. And although the researchers point out resettlement is hard to do and seldom has been accomplished, it says that option likely “would be greatly preferred” in this region.

“People in this area have strong ties to place and community; the loss of either would be a tragedy,” it reports.

Yet the authors acknowledge elected officials – policy makers – shy away from initiating such discussions because their constituents’ love of place would make such efforts extremely unpopular.

The alternative is a piecemeal, voluntary migration as conditions worsen, insurance rates soar, and property values plummet. That might be what the future holds, given the nation’s practice of responding only to emergency events, rather than planning for forecast but slow-developing crisis.

“It is much easier to get assistance if there is an event, a sharp shock, like (Hurricane) Katrina,” said co-author Christopher Dalbom, program manager at the institute. “But sea level rise and subsidence is a slow creep.”

He said much of what’s being done is in reaction to specific events: “Houses that have seen severe repetitive loss are more likely to be bought out, maybe structural defenses increased.

“But on the anticipatory side, there’s not much that I am aware of.”

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About Bob Marshall

From 2013 to 2017, Bob Marshall covered environmental issues for The Lens, with a special focus on coastal restoration and wetlands. While at The Times-Picayune, his work chronicling the people, stories and issues of Louisiana’s wetlands was recognized with two Pulitzer Prizes and other awards. In 2012 Marshall was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the Loyola University School of Communications Den of Distinction.

  • nickelndime

    50 year – 50 billion dollar plan? So, let me get this straight – it is going to cost 1 billion dollars a year for the rest of the country to watch this swampland survival-of-the-fittest reality show of southeast Louisiana sliding into the Gulf? It better have sparklers, or I am going to ask for MY money back!

  • Zimpel78

    Everybody likes to talk about how the good citizens of coastal Louisiana are “salt-of-the-earth” kind of people, until it comes time to helping them. Then, it’s like, “we wouldn’t DREAM of imposing on their rugged individualism and self-reliance — they’re quite capable of helping themselves, if they want to.” And so it goes.
    There will always be another storm to remember. It will be terrible, horrible, and wipe out some chunk of real estate, along with some residents. But after the storm, those left will mostly return, IF their little slice of heaven hasn’t washed away. It will be a game of musical chairs on a grand scale, until all the chairs are under water and there’s no longer any place to come back to.
    The prudent will have moved away before. Think of how many Chalmatians now live in Pearl River “Parish.”

  • nickelndime

    Why is it always Louisiana that will get washed away no matter how many billions of dollars are spent? This is a setup for failure. We get $##%*%€! treatment from legislators at federal, state, and local levels. You know damn well these well-heeled individuals will be gone from here well before the weather service can say “Category 2.” Cuba is safer than Louisisna. Anywhere else is safer than Louisiana. We are not getting anything for our money. According to these studies, we are “done for.” Louisiana should leave now! Secede, and the citizenry should throw out local and state government. We apply for aid from the US, if you want to call it that, and be the banana republic we are – at heart. WE ARE SICK OF THE GOVERNMENT (ALL LEVELS) AND CORPORATE INTERESTS MAKING MONEY OFF OF US. THE RETURN ON OUR INVESTMENTS JUST AREN’T WHAT WE EXPECTED. YOU ARE FIRED.

  • nickelndime

    If you are reading this and you are still residing in Louisiana, particularly in southeast Louisiana, you are the kind of individual WE are looking for. We need rugged, survival of the fittest individuals who are willing to stand up for what they believe and say, “I AM MAD AS HELL AND I AM NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANY MORE.” Keep an eye out for further information. We are in the formative stages, but we move quickly, unlike government officials – who tend to be weak and love to eat at expensive restaurants and wear fancy clothes.

  • Nolaresident

    >Think of how many Chalmatians now live in Pearl River “Parish.”

    Not to worry. A goodly number of those Chalmatians have returned to da parish.

  • Elevation, mitigation, and migration are cheap, but politics dictate all and we logically can’t take our oil and gas and leave American Idol game when we have Exhibit A of $ politics as Governor and us more worried about the Saints than the sinners against the leverage SELA’s lawsuits brings.
    Best from 5110 Freret- where the insurance goes up every year on our 240mph wind rated building, elevated 4′ above BFE, with 3hr (“full masonry”) walls, as to help our Insurance Commissioner subsidize those who still build stupid and get re-elected. Sorry for the ramble, but after all we went trough- and did cheaper than wood (sticks and twigs)- it’s heart sick NOBODY ELSE DOES THE SAME!!!! and we point to Brad Pitt to Make it Feel Good…
    Andy Brott

  • nickelndime

    Were it not for the rambling (as you call it), Andy Brott, I would go insane from all of the idiocy that goes on in this state. It’s hard enough fighting against the power and corruption in politics, but then we are supposed to be amused and thankful for being treated like fools, spending our time (passing time) looking at ball games and tailgating! “I AM MAD AS HELL AND I AM NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANY MORE.”

  • KC King

    But wait! There are things we can do an actions we can take. Those of us ho thought for a minute about future risks raised out inundated houses above the Katrina coffe stains. We now have generators to bide us over the faults in our third world electric grid.

    The down side is that we are pariahs in our neighborhood of renovated slab-on-grade deniers. Our home values didn’t appreciate as they should have before the affordable flood insurance scam against American taxpayers. But yes, we are tough.

    The part I like is that although the Corps’ evaluation team found that our protection was a “system in name only”, no one in authority has stopped to ask what that means nor has made any effort to take a real systems approach with realistic benefit.

    Speaking of the Coastal Master Plan, it claims it used a system approach but their was no evidence of it in any other part of the plan or in any of the selected projects – just more of the same old stuff – a jobs program for ecologists and state contractors. I not been able to find an educational institution in Louisiana offers any course, let alone a degree, in systems engineering. That makes it much easier to use words in the coastal Master Plan that have no meaning.

    Reimagining a realistic future is like our recovery from Katrina, government just gets in the way. Like our recovery, it’s going to have to be done by residents, for residents.

  • “Perception is everything”…
    “There is no such thing as bad publicity”…
    Blah blah blah yadda blah-blah… (not directed at you or your passionate logical comments)
    Talk is cheap- yet we won’t fix, save, or solve anything without fixing our pubic image and expose the truth on what was done to build the America they love.
    Yes- “I AM MAD AS HELL”- but please don’t scare and scar the Fake Book me 1sters needed to expose truths and engage for fixes…
    That’s my blah-blah- dogma ate my montra- of the day to you mr./mrs./ms.nickelndime- please don’t crack up on us, unless the ROI is worth the risk.
    keep up the good works and

  • nickelndime

    I agree – GOVERNMENT GETS IN THE WAY – of progress and everything that is good and right and pure. I think it’s time we take it back! I agree – OUR PUBLIC IMAGE STINKS – and it don’t look good either. Move out the way – my chair is tilting and my ASP (that’s my pet snake ASP) is about to ROLL.