Hurricane Ida reinforces need for resiliency

Published 12:18 am Saturday, January 8, 2022

Even though I bought my house in 2020 and have no intentions of moving, I sometimes find myself scrolling through real estate apps on my phone just to see what’s out there. Instead of the pristine real estate photography I saw during my home buying journey, I now see half-gutted homes and roofs with blue tarp patches. The text reads “selling as is,” but the unwritten message is painfully clear. Hurricane Ida devastated St. John Parish families less than a decade after they picked up the pieces from Isaac. This time, many of the impacted families are fleeing to safer ground without a second thought, even if it means leaving the parish they’ve called home behind for good.

St. John Parish’s 2020 Census results showed a population decline of 7.5% from the 2010 Census report. Census results dictate how funding is allocated across our state, so a shrinking population makes it more difficult to obtain the resources needed to provide for residents. In order to stay, families need to feel secure in their decision to live in St. John Parish. The West Shore Levee Project plays a big role in storm risk reduction. However, since Hurricane Isaac in 2012, we’ve also had to consider how to drive future development in our communities in a way that minimizes impact from storm surge and heavy rain events.

During the December 28 Parish Council meeting, a contract for the LA Safe Airline & Main Complete Streets program was awarded to Command Construction Industries of Mandeville. The LA SAFE Project is funded through a grant from the Office of Community Development. While on the outside, this may appear to be a simple beautification project, the LA SAFE Project has five goals: manage flooding and subsidence, direct growth to low risk areas, improve mobility throughout the parish and region, strengthen and diversify local economies, and protect and promote historical assets.

In other words, it is intended to revitalize a part of LaPlace that is situated on higher ground and less vulnerable to future flood risk. In addition to bike paths/walkways, the project includes several “green” features to more effectively absorb rain water.

The full report and rationale for the project can be found at lasafe.la.gov.

I see the benefits to the project, and I think it’s critical that we plan the future of our communities through a scope of resiliency. As we recover from Hurricane Ida, we should aim to make our homes and towns not as they were before, but stronger than they were before. I also think LaPlace is missing the distinct feel of a centralized “downtown area” that could strengthen our economy.

However, as someone who works for a company located on the 0.3-mile stretch of Main Street involved in the LA SAFE project, I have my doubts over whether this small area of LaPlace could support that type of growth. There have been discussions about locating a multimodal transport station on this same short stretch of land. I agree that Main Street needs a makeover, but I don’t foresee the LA SAFE project resolving traffic congestion or increasing mobility throughout the parish in a significant way. I also don’t think the average person understands the purpose of this project or how it’s linked to stormwater management.

One final concern of mine is that the LA SAFE research accounted for the effects of storm surge and coastal erosion, but not wind, which caused widespread destruction to LaPlace during Hurricane Ida. Wind damage is a major reason houses are destroyed and people are leaving. How do we protect against that?

Regardless of these concerns, I do think LA SAFE is an important first step toward the future of development in Southeast Louisiana. Having funding from the state benefits us without taking money from the Parish’s coffers. Even after the levee is built, I would like to see St. John Parish put this mode of thinking into revitalization projects that extend beyond the Airline Highway and Main Complete Streets.

 

 

Brooke R. Cantrelle is news editor for L’OBSERVATEUR. She can be reached at brooke.robichaux@lobservateur.com.