Nungesser Advocates for 5-Year Climate Change Plan

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Just before co-hosting a jam-packed town hall meeting at Houma’s Bayou Cane Fire Department with frustrated survivors of Hurricane Ida, Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser said Friday morning that Louisiana must have a five-year plan to save Louisiana’s coast. “We don’t need a 50-year plan. We need a five-year plan to save our coast,” Nungesser told WWL TV’s Eric Paulsen on Eyewitness Morning News. “We’re not lucky enough to have another 10 years without a major storm because of this climate change and the storms are getting a lot worse.”

The former Plaquemines Parish president knows full well how decades of hurricanes have washed away thousands of miles of wetlands in his home parish and all along Louisiana’s coast. He firmly believes that for Louisiana’s homeowners and businesses to quickly rebuild, effective solutions to ongoing flooding as well as damage from high wind and rain must be developed sooner rather than later. 

From the devastating fires in California to recent flooding in China, climate change is a growing global problem in all corners of the world. There were 14 hurricanes in 2020, the busiest season since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. Though “normal life” is steadily returning for Orleans Parish residents, Hurricane Ida recovery will be a marathon rather than a sprint in towns and hamlets like Pointe-aux-Chenes, Grand Isle, Golden Meadow, Larose, Cocodrie and LaPlace.  

Nungesser said that stronger, more frequent storms demand a multi-faceted approach which includes hardening the power grid and building berms to protect the coast. Much of Louisiana’s coastline was already in a rebuilding phase from Hurricanes Laura and Zeta. Hurricane Ida accelerated from a Category 1 storm to almost a Category 5 storm in 24-hours. 

Because Ida was both slow-moving and powerful, she cut an inordinately wide path of destruction that has delayed schools re-opening, people returning to their homes and workers back to their businesses in several coastal parishes. Many of these citizens are temporarily residing outside storm-damaged areas and struggling to connect with FEMA and other government resources including blue tarps and disaster food stamps.   

Early assessments from the Environmental Defense Fund reported that 25 percent of Lafourche Parish was uninhabitable immediately after the storm. Almost every building in Grand Isle suffered damage. The question in both these towns – and lots of others – is how many structures can be rebuilt and at what price. The seafood industry has been especially decimated. Hundreds of shrimpers and fishermen lost their boats and their homes and are having a hard time putting their lives back together.   

Nungesser explained that much work lay ahead. “There’s so many places that need help and there’s only so many people to do that.” Nungesser told Terrebonne Parish residents who attended the town hall meeting that his heart breaks for everyone who has been impacted by Hurricane Ida. “This is going to be a challenge unlike any we’ve had. One because of the widespread disaster, and two because it’s not New Orleans. They’re going to try and forget us and not give us the attention we need. This is an unusually tough situation because we’re coming out of COVID. Tempers are short and people are really struggling on top of this disaster. It’s overwhelming to see so much devastation widespread.”

In addition to the costs of repairs, Louisiana residents recovering from Ida, Laura, Delta, and Zeta as well as several hundred thousand others are about to be hit with increased flood insurance costs. Premiums are set to rise in October. U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy have been asked by President Biden to delay the implementation of FEMA’s new flood insurance pricing schedule.  

After Hurricane Katrina, Nungesser was part of a Louisiana delegation that visited the Netherlands, a country surrounded in large part by the North Sea, to see how they are able to more successfully live with water. From that visit and other research, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed the enhanced levee plan for New Orleans that performed well during Hurricane Ida. Since a devastating flood in the 1960’s, the Netherlands has created a unique protection system including an innovative system of flood gates, water parks and reclaimed land where neighborhoods and businesses once stood. 

Thousands of citizens across Louisiana are confronting the new realities that they must rebuild smarter, safer, better. As climate change continues, perhaps some will realize that living on or near the water may no longer be practical or cost-effective. Water has always been Louisiana’s friend and still can be as long as we respect her power and give her a wide berth.   

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