A Sense of Place at Risk - Perspectives of residents of coastal Louisiana on nonstructural risk reduction strategies
Supported by Oxfam America, this study documented the views of residents from three vulnerable Louisiana coastal parishes - Terrebonne, Lafourche, and Plaquemines. These parishes face extreme coastal land loss from flooding and sea level rise, and other critical climate and social impacts. The study focuses on nonstructural coastal flooding mitigation measures, such as restoring coastal marshlands. A series of interviews were conducted to investigate how residents understand and respond to the challenges of sea level rise and climate change. The principle investigator, Pamela Jenkins believes that it is “vital to bring these residents into the planning; they have traditional wisdom, intimate knowledge of the ecosystem, and a deeply rooted “sense of place” that has knitted their communities together for generations.”
According to the report, flooding and land loss in southern Louisiana accounts for 90% of total wetlands land loss in the lower 48 states - threatening livelihoods, and the long-term existence of some communities in this region. The research focused on nonstructural coastal flooding risk reduction strategies. Generally, coastal restoration is viewed not only as essential to retaining land, and even reversing some land loss, but is becoming a new sector in the regional economy with the potential to generate tens of thousands of new jobs.
Elevation of homes is also a popular alternative in coastal Louisiana - however the study found that the implementation of the this strategy is complex - including differences in funding, design, construction, and community transformation. Also, residents believe that the bureaucracy involved in applying for and qualifying for elevation funding to be a major obstacle. Elevation design and implementation also needs further investigation in terms of engineering and land use.
The author reports that the discussion on relocation with each of the residents was the most sensitive and difficult. Relocation is seen as a much less viable alternative than restoring the coast, there are fears about how relocation will occur, and how communities will be affected.
The following Recommendations were made to summarize the findings from interviews and Oxfam meetings that strategized around the region’s climate impacts and local needs:
Recommendation 1: The solutions to land loss and sea level rise should be connected to best practices in physical, engineering, and social sciences, and separate from either local or state politics.
Recommendation 2: Local and state officials should make a concerted effort to connect with the residents of the lower coastal parishes.
Recommendation 3: Federal and state programs need to both simplify and expand the elevation process. This recommendation encompasses the wide-ranging issues that define the process of elevating houses in vulnerable areas. Residents report that the funding is difficult. Further, they report that finding qualified contractors continues to be a problem. And, there are long-term concerns about the feasibility of elevated houses.
Recommendation 4: Public education should be designed to be a dialogue between community residents and officials - encouraging an exchange of knowledge and information, and recognizing residents’ expertise and concerns.
Recommendation 5: Any plans around possible relocation should consider the needs of and impacts on communities, and should significantly engage those communities in the planning process.
Recommendation 6: The 2017 version of the Coastal Master Plan should further develop nonstructural implementation in an equitable process.
Publication Date: April 14, 2016
- Oxfam America