In the face of rising sea levels, subsiding land and frequent flood events, the south Louisiana residents of Isle de Jean Charles need to move to higher, safer ground. With the loss of more than 98 percent of the community’s land during the past 60 years, only 320 of the island’s original 22,400 acres remain. Although the island has been both a home and a historically significant landmark for nearly 200 years, community resettlement is inevitable. The only question is how.
To initiate this process, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded $48.3 million to the state of Louisiana’s Office of Community Development-Disaster Recovery Unit (OCD-DRU) to resettle the residents as an entire community. Since the challenges of this project do not end with a physical move to a new location, the resettlement of Isle de Jean Charles must protect the island’s American Indian culture and support future generations.
To achieve these goals, OCD-DRU will develop and implement a geographically achievable, economically feasible and culturally respectful resettlement strategy. This strategy will include close collaboration with residents, as well as local, state and federal stakeholders. As the state’s lead agency for disaster recovery since 2005, OCD-DRU is well-positioned to negotiate these challenges and achieve an outcome that serves the island’s residents and provides a resettlement model for the entire nation.
Office of Community Development
The Louisiana Office of Community Development’s Disaster Recovery Unit works to address long-term recovery from natural disasters such as hurricanes and severe flooding.
While this remains central to OCD-DRU’s mission, we have adjusted our organizational tactics in recognition of the increasing frequency and intensity of disaster events impacting Louisiana. In our state, these events are exacerbated by ongoing land loss, subsidence and sea level rise along our coast. That is why we have begun to think about recovery with the core principles of resilience and adaptation.
We know we cannot rebuild land in Louisiana faster than we are losing it. However, armed with world-class flood-risk modeling data from our state partners at the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, we can project future vulnerability over the next 50 years and make plans today that will keep us safer tomorrow.
In some cases, such as with Isle de Jean Charles, there are coastal communities that most likely will no longer be habitable in just a few decades. While the state will never force anyone to move from any community, we must confront this reality. We owe it to our vulnerable coastal populations to have a model for community resettlement set in place, which can be scaled and replicated as needed over time.
The residents of Isle de Jean have partnered with the state to develop such a model, and in doing so, they are leading the way in showing Louisiana and the world that, even in the most dire of circumstances, we have the opportunity to develop innovative solutions, to create a new community, and build a new life for our residents.