Members of one of Lafourche Parish’s hardest-hit communities for Hurricane Ida got to meet face-to-face with parish leadership on Monday night at the Larose Civic Center.
In the hour-plus meeting, questions were asked and answers were given. Those answers sometimes caused tears to flow and emotions to run hot, but both sides said they’re happy that everything was put out on the table.
Residents in the area near Buchanan and Chester Lee Street in Larose met with local leaders to discuss the reasons why their neighborhood flooded with both water and mud for Ida, while also discussing plans to prevent the problem from happening in the future.
Parish President Archie Chaisson, North Lafourche Levee District Executive Director Dwayne Bourgeois, NLLD President Cory Kief and other parish leaders spoke in the meeting. Members of the neighborhood also had the opportunity to ask questions and offer their thoughts on the situation.
“I know your frustration,” Chaisson said. “I’ve heard it. I’ve seen it. You have every right to feel that way. … But this is going to be an ongoing process. It’s going to take some time. I assure you that we will be there until it’s done.”
Bourgeois said the problems the neighborhood experienced from Ida were due to a storm surge that overtopped the area’s levees.
From 2:50 p.m. to 3:26 p.m. on the day of landfall, waters rose by more than 6 feet, overtopping the system that neighborhood has in place.
“This storm was astronomical,” Bourgeois said. “We can’t change that. Our goal tonight is to tell you what we have for you moving forward.”
Bourgeois said there are both small-picture and big-picture goals to help residents in the future.
Several projects are on the books to help drainage and levees in the area — all projects that could be completed within the next year.
The goal, Bourgeois said, is to lift that area’s levee to 8 feet sometime in the future.
“We’re always working to improve levees,” Bourgeois said. “And there are several projects that are fully funded that are ongoing now.”
But Bourgeois and others also offered that real relief and guarantees cannot be given to the neighborhood until other bigger picture goals are met.
The Morganza to the Gulf Project is a multi-tiered levee protection system that, when completed, will offer the Bayou Region’s coast greater storm protection than we’ve ever had. Phases of that project will greatly help the Larose community’s vulnerability to flooding from storm surge by blocking water before it reaches that area.
But that project will cost billions and work and funding are both slow.
Bourgeois said the Morganza levee’s completion “would have made a difference” to the Larose community for Ida.
But while waiting, there are no guarantees. The timeline for its full completion, parish leaders said, is upwards of a decade.
“I’m convinced we need multiple lines of defense,” Bourgeois said. “We need that big system outside and these internal things that I’m talking about. We need both. When we have that, you will see a difference. Before then, all we can do is improve what we have and that offers no guarantees.”
THE WAITING GAME AND RISK REDUCTION
That residents in the vulnerable Larose communities might have to wait a decade for difference-making protection was a topic that did not sit well throughout the meeting.
Multiple locals asked questions during the meeting and some were even moved to tears while asking lawmakers for help.
Kief said the Larose community ideally would have 13-foot levees like the South Lafourche Levee District’s system, but that those heights cannot be attained because the community is built too close to the flood protection area.
Kief said that while waiting, locals in the area have to understand that they are in a high-risk area and make their decisions accordingly.
“We all want the Mac Daddy system. You’re damned right we want that,” Kief said. “But it takes time and it takes money. So what do we do? Estimates say 8-10 years. If we get hit by another one like Ida, will we get our asses kicked again? Yes we will. That’s the reality of the situation and that’s just the truth. Eventually we will have it, but it will take time. … So do you stay here or do you leave? At the end of the day, that’s just the truth. That’s the decision you all have to make.”
But locals said it’s not easy to just “up and leave” a place that they’ve lived their whole lives or a place were they’ve raised their families.
Melissa Eymard started to cry when expressing her frustrations with lawmakers, saying that moving takes time and money, and that it’s not easy to get leave a place where you’ve made memories.
“My kids are there. My whole family is there,” Eymard said, fighting her emotions. “You can’t just say we have a risk and that we’re in a bad area. That’s our home.”
Chaisson said he doesn’t want anyone in the Larose community to be displaced, and he hopes everyone in the area decides to stay. He somewhat walked back Kief’s statement saying that the parish will be with the neighborhood throughout its rebuilding process.
“I hope all of you guys put it back together,” Chaisson said. “I’m not going to just stand up here and say, ‘Screw you guys! You’re in a risky area, so you deserve to flood.’ We’re not going to do that. We’re going to work with you to take the steps we need to make sure that you’re better protected in the future.”
Kief said he was angry with the entire situation, saying that it’s “his job” to protect people from flooding and that any time that job isn’t successful, he’s “pissed off.”
He said he wants locals to understand the gravity of the storm that hit our area when making decisions about leaving.
“Do we want to get there (to full protection)?” Kief asked. “Yes, we do. And yes, we will.”
Chaisson said more than $2 million has been spent to help the Larose community so far in the efforts to pump mud and water out of the area.
INSURANCE CONCERNS AND FEMA TRAILERS
Bourgeois said he is also fighting what he called an ‘endless battle’ to help keep flood insurance prices down in southeast Louisiana. FEMA recently completed its new risk ratings systems to set flood insurance rates and several areas in the Bayou Region could be in line for large hikes.
“We’re fighting it,” Bourgeois said. “It’s an endless battle.”
Bourgeois said he encouraged everyone in the Larose community — and in all of Lafourche Parish — to call their insurance provider and ask about what the new risk ratings mean for their future premiums.
Local attorney Ray Collins was also on hand at the meeting and met with locals to discuss any and all options they might have in communicating with insurances, adjusters or others in the process of rebuilding after the storm.
Chaisson said that on a positive note, FEMA trailers are expected to arrive in the area “any day” now. He said working with FEMA “has been slow,” but that progress is finally being seen.
Trailers will go first do those with the most damages. A prioritized list has been made to ensure that those who need housing the most will receive trailers and so-on.
Chaisson said he wants locals to please be as patient as they can throughout this rough post-storm times.
“It’s going to take some time,” Chaisson said. “But we’re going to be here with you guys for all of it.”
GALLERY: Larose community members meet with parish officials to discuss their future after Ida
Hurricane Ida was tough on us all with 100+ mph winds for our entire area. But a community just off the Intracoastal in Larose was one of the hardest-hit areas with their levees overtopped, which pushed flood waters and mud into their neighborhoods – problems that still linger today, now more than a month after the storm.
On Monday, residents of that area got a chance to have their voices heard, meeting with local lawmakers at the Larose Civic Center.
See photos from the meeting. Photos by ABBY LAZARD | GAZETTE.