Louisianians love their coastal communities. The draw of the beaches along the Gulf of Mexico is so strong residents are willing to build houses 20 feet up in the air, gamble on homes surviving storms without insurance, and willingly believe government assurances that reenforced levees will hold off 1,000 year floods.
Over the Fourth of July, revelers flocked to two of Louisiana’s coastal beachheads, Grand Isle and Holly Beach. Grand Isle was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina; five weeks later Hurricane Rita leveled Holly Beach. Both communities are seeing rebuilding. In the case of Grand Isle, locals say it’s a boom. Holly Beach is being eyed by out-of-state developers as a promising investment.
Meanwhile, a new Sea Grant publication, “Louisiana Coastal Hazard Mitigation Guidebook,” warns local governments and land-use planners about the hazards of building in the coastal zone. The co-authors of the book, Jim Wilkins, associate professor and director of the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program’s Law and Policy Program at LSU, and Rod Emmer, an associate research professor in the Louisiana Sea Grant Program, call for a reality check about the ability of engineers to protect flood and storm prone developments. Aside from advising building high up on pilings and calculating for land subsidence and sea-level rise, the authors make an alternate suggestion: retreat from the coast.