Louisiana Unveils Ambitious Plan to Help People Get Out of the Way of Climate Change
An incredibly well-done bit of writing and multi-media storytelling on the Louisiana coast from Bloomberg.
Gerard Braud has no plans to leave his handsome Creole-style house with its 15-foot-high front porch on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, a short drive from New Orleans. “Peacefulness and tranquility” is how he explains the appeal of living here.
Except that thanks in part to climate change, the lake keeps hopping the short seawall in front of Braud’s house and taking over his neatly manicured lawn—not just during hurricanes, but also when the tide is high and the winds are strong. His flood insurance premiums have almost doubled to $5,000 a year, making him wonder how difficult it would be to sell even if he wanted to.
In flood-prone areas across southern Louisiana, residents such as Braud risk running out of choices: living in homes that are hard to leave but put them in harm’s way. In response, the state on Wednesday issued a sweeping blueprint—the first of its kind in the U.S.—for managing the ongoing population movement away from its coastal areas, and preparing inland communities to receive an infusion of people.
“This is not a mandate for anyone, but it is based on the feedback given by those who will be most directly impacted,” Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said in a statement. “We have to be realistic about the current and future effects of coastal land loss and plan today to develop Louisiana’s next generation of communities.”
Louisiana is losing almost a football field’s worth of land every hour, driven by a combination of rising seas and the nature of its soil, which is subsiding at a fast rate. In the face of repeated hurricanes and flooding, some of the state’s coastal towns saw more than half of their residents leave between the 2000 and 2010 U.S. Census.
In an attempt to handle the flow of people, the report looks at six parishes around the end of the Mississippi, and projects the future flood risk in each part of those parishes. It includes a long list of policies, including a temporary buyout program for high-risk areas to provide both “an incentive and the assistance many people need to move away.”
“It doesn’t mean moving 200 miles from the coast,” said Pat Forbes, executive director of Louisiana’s Office of Community Development, which produced the report. “It means moving to a safer place. Part of this is getting people out of the most dangerous areas.”
A sign in southern Terrebonne Parish, in an area designated by the state as high risk.
Photographer: Emily Kask / Bloomberg
The document calls for high-risk areas to “transition away from permanent residential development.” For those residents and structures that remain, the report urges local officials to impose stronger building codes and stormwater management systems. And it proposes “floating services such as medical facilities, schools, and groceries to serve people in coastal areas.”
“This isn’t just about managed retreat,” Forbes said. “Some places are going to have to retreat. And some are adapting through other measures, because we recognize we’re going to have people in the coast.”
The strategy goes beyond homes. Southern Louisiana is heavily industrial, so the report proposes what it calls “bonding requirements for new commercial developments in high-risk areas to ensure demolition at the end of their useful life or upon long-term vacancy.”
The state’s blueprint, which reflects feedback from more than 70 public meetings and events and is part of a state program funded by a $40 million grant from the Obama administration, also includes a raft of changes in what it designates as lower-risk, higher-elevation regions. Those proposals include denser development, better transportation infrastructure, and more appealing downtown areas.
“We really want to get on the front end of the opportunity that I think comes from migration,” said Mathew Sanders, the resilience program and policy administrator for the office and the person who led the development of the strategy.
As waters rise, insurance is getting more expensive
In St. Tammany Parish, where Braud lives, almost 10 percent of urban land is in high-risk zones. That counts as lucky here: In Plaquemines Parish, the ever-narrowing strip of land that escorts the Mississippi River into the gulf, 55 percent of urban land is in high-risk areas—along with 41 percent of the population.
And those figures assume that Louisiana’s ambitious, $50 billion plan for preserving and restoring some of its coast, through such measures as diverting parts of the Mississippi, actually happens. If not, the risks will be even greater.