A state map shows areas of southern Louisiana at the greatest risk of flooding. Graphic: Bloomberg News

By Christopher Flavelle
22 December 2017

(Bloomberg News) – Louisiana is finalizing a plan to move thousands of people from areas threatened by the rising Gulf of Mexico, effectively declaring uninhabitable a coastal area larger than Delaware.

A draft of the plan, the most aggressive response to climate-linked flooding in the U.S., calls for prohibitions on building new homes in high-risk areas, buyouts of homeowners who live there now and hikes in taxes on those who won’t leave. Commercial development would still be allowed, but developers would need to put up bonds to pay for those buildings’ eventual demolition.

“Not everybody is going to live where they are now and continue their way of life,” said Mathew Sanders, the state official in charge of the program, which has the backing of Governor John Bel Edwards. “And that is an emotional, and terrible, reality to face.”

Months of community meetings on the program wrapped up this week.

The draft plan, a portion of which was obtained by Bloomberg News, is part of a state initiative funded by the federal government to help Louisiana plan for the effects of coastal erosion. That erosion is happening faster in Louisiana than anywhere in the U.S., due to a mix of rising seas and sinking land caused in part by oil and gas extraction. State officials say they hope the program, called Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments, or LA SAFE, becomes a model for coastal areas around the country and the world threatened by climate change.

While the state hasn’t come up with a cost estimate, the buyouts and resettlement could add up to billions of dollars. The federal grant for the initial phase cost $40 million.

The idea hasn’t gone over well with all the people it’s supposed to help, some of whom want the government to do more to protect their communities instead of abandoning them.

“Are we doing every single damn thing we can? I don’t think we are,” Richie Blink, 31, said over a bowl of gumbo in Empire, a town 60 miles south of New Orleans on the bank of the Mississippi River. He paused, then said he didn’t mean to get worked up. “This stuff wears you out emotionally.”

Empire lost half its population after Hurricane Katrina, and now has fewer than 1,000 people. Blink, a community organizer for the National Wildlife Federation, said he understands the dilemma political leaders face, but wishes they would do more to keep the area habitable longer.

Empire’s harbor has a flood gate to protect the boats inside from extreme weather. “When I was a kid, it was a big deal to see the flood gates closed,” said Blink. This year, he said, those gates were closed for 100 days. […]

Rob Moore, a flood policy expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council in Chicago, said that if the state goes ahead with the plan, “then every coastal state in the country should be asking themselves, ‘If Louisiana can do this, why aren’t we?’” [more]

Louisiana, Sinking Fast, Prepares to Empty Out Its Coastal Plain



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