Louisiana Plans for Big Population Movements as Gulf Coast Washes Away
Responding to rising seas and their attendant storm surges, Louisiana has developed a 1,500-page plan to keep its citizens as safe as possible under the circumstances.
The “sweeping blueprint” for rescue and relocation has two main objectives, reports Bloomberg: “managing the ongoing population movement away from its coastal areas, and preparing inland communities to receive an infusion of people.”
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The blueprint is urgently needed, given that the state “is losing almost a football field’s worth of land every hour, driven by a combination of rising seas and the nature of its soil, which is subsiding at a fast rate.” Those climate impacts, along with repeat hurricanes and flooding, have generated a mass exodus from coastal communities, with some seeing their populations halved between 2000 and 2010.
Aid for those desperate to move will include “a temporary buyout program for high-risk areas to provide both ‘an incentive and the assistance many people need to move away’,” Bloomberg states. The plan also calls for high-risk regions of the coast to “transition away from permanent residential development.”
For those citizens who do wish to stay on the coast, “the report urges local officials to impose stronger building codes and storm water management systems,” and to establish “floating services such as medical facilities, schools, and groceries.”
“This isn’t just about managed retreat,” said Pat Forbes, executive director of the state’s Office of Community Development (OCD), which produced the report. “We recognize we’re going to have people in the coast.”
The state’s strategic plan “goes beyond homes,” Bloomberg explains. Southern Louisiana is heavily industrial, so the report proposes what it calls “bonding requirements for new commercial developments in high-risk areas to ensure demolition at the end of their useful life, or upon long-term vacancy.”
Reflecting community input from more than 70 public meetings and events, the blueprint identifies denser development, better transportation infrastructure, and more appealing downtown areas as the key to building more sustainable communities (or expanding existing ones) beyond the reach of storm surge and rising seas.
“We really want to get on the front end of the opportunity that I think comes from migration,” said Mathew Sanders, the OCD’s resilience program and policy administrator.
The blueprint’s current designation of low-, middle-, and high-risk areas does assume that Louisiana will carry through on a far-reaching, US$50-billion plan to preserve and restore sections of coast, through measures that include diverting parts of the Mississippi River. In reality, though, much uncertainty remains, and further and greater losses are anticipated.
“Even a conservative projection does not present a rosy outlook for many of our most vulnerable communities,” Sanders told Bloomberg. “That was really the point we were trying to illustrate.