Located deep in the bayous of southern Louisiana, isolated by coastal erosion and rising seas, the community of Isle de Jean Charles lives on an island that once encompassed more than 22,000 acres of land. Today, only about 300 acres remain. In 1953, Terrebonne Parish built Island Road to connect the Island with the mainland. Today, Island Road is frequently underwater, impassable due to high winds and tides, sea level rise, and storm surge, effectively blocking residents from school, work, and other essential services. The land where Island residents and their families once hunted, trapped, grazed animals, and farmed is now open water. The question is no longer how to save the land, but how to help residents develop and resettle a new home that preserves their culture and values in a place that offers a prosperous and sustainable future. Determined to answer that question, a dedicated team of state officials, planners, engineers, architects, and policymakers—in collaboration with current and former Island residents—is developing such a Resettlement Program.
In January 2016, through the National Disaster Resilience Competition, HUD awarded $48.3 million to the state of Louisiana for the Resettlement of Isle de Jean Charles—one of the state’s winning entries in the competition. With this funding, Louisiana gained the opportunity to facilitate a structured retreat from Isle de Jean Charles in a way that is thoughtful and equitable, and maximizes opportunities for past and current Island residents.
This HUD-funded Resettlement integrates some features from past planning efforts, yet seeks to incorporate full participation of Island residents in the planning and implementation process. The state hopes this inclusive process will not only serve the residents but also create a national and international resettlement model with a proactive, climate-based relocation framework that will guide other communities also facing ongoing land loss and increasing flood risk.
Historically, most efforts of this type look to buy out or move individual properties – resulting in community fragmentation. Sanders is hopeful that the Isle de Jean Charles Resettlement Plan will be a model for future large-scale relocation projects which can keep communities and families intact with an effective and considerate system.