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Coastal News Roundup: State Releases New Plan For How To Deal With Flooding, Coastal Migration

Coastal parishes face increasing flood risk in the coming decades due to a number of factors, including sea level rise. The new plan from LA SAFE focuses on how various levels of government can help coastal residents adjust to looming demographic changes.

Living on the Louisiana coast means living with the threat of flooding and extreme weather. But a changing climate and disappearing coast make predicting risk hard. So the state is trying to help.

Louisiana’s Office of Community Development has released a big report full of possible ways that different levels of government might respond -- like exploring voluntary buyout programs for homes in flood-prone areas.

WWNO’s Travis Lux talks about the plan with Pat Forbes, Executive Director of the Louisiana Office of Community Development.

The following transcript has been lightly edited:

Q: The report comes from the LA SAFE initiative. It starts with an assumption: that no matter what we do on the coast, no matter how many marshes or levees we build -- we’re still going to have to deal with flooding and things are going to get worse. Does this represent a shift in how the state is thinking about vulnerable areas on the coast?

No, not really. The LA SAFE report didn’t create this idea that there are pieces of the coast that we are going to lose no matter what we do. That’s in the Coastal Master Plan that the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA has generated).

Q: I read it as a blueprint, almost, for how the state should move into the future when thinking about things like migration and sea level rise. It recommends creating a voluntary buyout program for people in high-risk areas. It recommends creating a K-12 curriculum around coastal issues, and it even says Louisiana should think about leaving the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Who’s going to be in charge of all of that?

Credit Travis Lux / WWNO
Pat Forbes is the Executive Director of Louisiana's Office of Community of Development.

What the LA SAFE plan represents is a toolbox. If and how some local entity or state entity decides to implement that remains to be seen. This is quite literally the first step in this process. With respect to buyouts -- those have already been envisioned in CPRA’s Coastal Master Plan. We’re not going to go move anybody out who doesn’t want to move, but we have to recognize that the folks who are left in the coast are generally there because they didn’t have the ability -- the financial ability or cultural community connections -- to leave and go to a safer place. And so how do we make sure that those folks are not abandoned in a place that they don’t want to be?

Q: It seems like this isn’t the kind of plan that doesn’t have a bunch of funding attached to it. It’s just a collection of ideas to potentially be implemented?

We are spending money in the state every day. The state is, the federal government is, local governments are. Nonprofits and individuals are spending money every day. The tools in this are not just about how we take some tranche of federal or state money and apply it to this process. It’s just about a new way of thinking about the investments we make every day in the coast. If we’re going to build something, do we build here or do we build it here? And do we build it six feet off the ground or at grade?

Q: This plan is pretty heavily focused on adaptation. There’s a lot of emphasis on things like home elevations and voluntary relocation programs, but the state already has a plan that deals with some of these issues in the Coastal Master Plan. How does this plan overlap with the Coastal Master Plan?

We have worked very closely with them and we’ll continue to do so to make sure that it is a compliment to the Master Plan. Because the Master Plan is the state’s plan for how we’re addressing coastal land loss. This is a more in-depth approach to starting to figure out what the human side of that adaptation looks like. And so it’s certainly not inconsistent with the Master Plan. It is in fact almost part of the Master Plan because this is a critical aspect of what we do as we try to address the loss of the coast.

Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Greater New Orleans Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

As Coastal Reporter, Travis Lux covers flood protection, coastal restoration, infrastructure, the energy and seafood industries, and the environment. In this role he's reported on everything from pipeline protests in the Atchafalaya swamp, to how shrimpers cope with low prices. He had a big hand in producing the series, New Orleans: Ready Or Not?, which examined how prepared New Orleans is for a future with more extreme weather. In 2017, Travis co-produced two episodes of TriPod: New Orleans at 300 examining New Orleans' historic efforts at flood protection. One episode, NOLA vs Nature: The Other Biggest Flood in New Orleans History, was recognized with awards from the Public Radio News Directors and the New Orleans Press Club. His stories often find a wider audience on national programs, too, like NPR's Morning Edition, WBUR's Here and Now, and WHYY's The Pulse.

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