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State Seeks Community Input On New Coastal Master Plan

Verdin family
Donny and Celima Verdin with their daughter, Alexandra. The family attended a CPRA meeting in Larose to learn more about restoration projects and Louisiana's disappearing coast.

Every five years, the state revamps its master plan to restore coastal Louisiana. This year, they’re hosting community meetings in coastal areas to tell people about master plan updates for 2017.

On a cool fall evening people stream into a brownstone community center in Larose, Louisiana. They’re here to learn about coastal land loss and what the state plans to do to stop it.

Donny Verdin brought the whole family, his wife Celima, nine-year-old Devin and ten-year old Alexandra. The Verdins load up on pastalaya and salad and sit down at a round table. The family listens to officials from the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and look at maps of their disappearing coast.

“I’m pretty confident now but as things erode and the sea levels get higher I’m a little worried on what it’s going to look like for us,” says Verdin.

Donny and his family live in Galiano, around 20 minutes south of the meeting, and closer to the part of the coast that is seeing serious erosion. “I think it’s important for the kids to see what their future looks like and it’s really important for them to be involved with the decision making process when it comes to our coast because it’s important to all of us.”

Donny serves on the tribal council for the United Houma Nation, so part of his goal is to get information to share with the tribe.

His wife Celima hopes it helps the whole family have important conversations about their future, “I know a lot of people, when they think of things like this, it’s always adults that come because they think of it as an adult situation, but really, this directly affects our children.”

She’s right. Their kids are the only children in the room.

Celima and Donny are constantly weighing the risks of living in Galiano against the benefits of being near the tribe and family. They don’t want to move, but they admit, the next big storm could force them north.

This meeting is being jointly run by the CPRA and the nonprofit group, Restore or Retreat. The program begins with a slide show with maps of land loss. “Thanks for coming tonight, we appreciate it,” says Simone Maloz, director of Restore or Retreat.

CPRA program director Karim Belhadjali shows maps of what the coast could look like if nothing is done. “This is – if we did no new projects from today – what the landscape would like in 50 years under that low scenario….” Celima gasps at the images, and takes photos with her phone.  Lost land is shown as red on the map Louisiana’s boot – and it grows with each slide.

When the presentation is done, about fifty people sit at round tables in the auditorium and look at big posterboard maps. They point to restoration projects the state has underway, like barrier islands that line the coast and are intended to protect it from storm surge. Donny’s kids turn to a cousin, P.J. Verdin, for some guidance. Devin asks, “So if they add on to this – will they like call it new places? Will there be new places?”

P.J. responds, “No they’ll be replacing old places,” and Celima explains “These islands are already here. They’re gonna make it bigger and hold it together better.”

The Master plan costs $50 billion money the state doesn’t have in hand yet. So the CPRA is making tough choices about what projects to do first and people in communities along the coast have different interests.

Plaquemines fishermen and oystermen are concerned about their fishing spots, they want buffers to protect the bays, and don’t want river diversions to change the water from brackish to fresh.

In Larose most live within the levees, and they want those protected.

The CPRA says they’ll consider the variety of wants and needs along the coast as they finalize the 2017 plan. While these community based meetings are meant to calm fears for coastal families, they also seem to be creating some new ones for folks like Verdin. Donny says, “I was under the impression that a lot more of it was already funded, than what is.”

Celima says she used to feel pretty safe about being behind the levees. Now, when asked if she’ll feel safe going home tonight her daughter Alexandra shakes her head no, saying “I’m scared.”

Celima laughs, but she confides that until now, the levees may have provided a false sense of security: they can protect from storm surge, but they can’t prevent the land from sinking. Or the seas from rising. And while a plan exists, it’s still unclear on how the state will pay for it, and even if they manage that, whether or not it’ll help help keep the Verdins on the coast for generations to come.

Support for WWNO's Coastal Desk comes from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Coypu Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation.

Tegan has reported on the coast for WWNO since 2015. In this role she has covered a wide range of issues and subjects related to coastal land loss, coastal restoration, and the culture and economy of Louisiana’s coastal zone, with a focus on solutions and the human dimensions of climate change. Her reporting has been aired nationally on Planet Money, Reveal, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Marketplace, BBC, CBC and other outlets. She’s a recipient of the Pulitzer Connected Coastlines grant, CUNY Resilience Fellowship, Metcalf Fellowship, and countless national and regional awards.

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