Hurricane Isaac is the fifth powerful tropical system to leave an unforgettable mark on south Louisiana in the last seven years. Each of these storms, from Katrina and Rita to Gustav and Ike and now Isaac had its own characteristics and personality and a unique legacy.
Isaac’s will likely be the storm surge it pushed deep into parts of St. John, St. James, Ascension and Livingston parishes, areas where residents had never seen flood waters rise so far or fast.
Part of the blame for those flood waters was Isaac’s tremendous size and lumbering track that pushed southeasterly winds into the Pontchartrain Basin for nearly a week.
Certainly some of the blame must also be placed on the dramatic loss of wetlands throughout southeast Louisiana over the past 80 years that have left our communities more vulnerable, threatened our culture and destroyed some of the world’s best fish and wildlife habitat.
Isaac’s landfall came just a few months after the passage of some of the most positive state and federal coastal restoration and protection legislation in our decades-long fight to remedy our state’s coastal land loss plague.
The state’s 2012 coastal master plan, approved and adopted by the Legislature in May, contains projects that could ultimately reverse Louisiana’s coastal land loss.
And, the RESTORE Act passed in Congress in June will send much needed restoration dollars to the state.
Unfortunately, during the same legislative session where we gained so much, we also saw state lawmakers try to redirect dollars destined to restore and protect our coast.
Isaac also came just months before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intends to close a diversion at West Bay in Plaquemines Parish that’s rebuilding coastal lands and shortly after the Corps decided it could not move forward with projects to restore wetlands damaged by the infamous Mississippi River Gulf Outlet.
Sadly, all five storms landed while billions in restoration projects that could have dampened impacts lay mired in endless federal bureaucracies that slow and stop construction.
While New Orleans, home to such failure and tragedy seven years ago, fared relatively well during Isaac thanks to corps and state efforts to fortify levees, floodwalls, pumps and gates, the rest of our coast becomes more vulnerable with each passing day.
Frustratingly, the same urgency behind building protection for New Orleans does not drive efforts to restore our vanishing coastal wetlands.
Those who make south Louisiana home can only hope that the misfortune of Isaac serves as yet another reminder to state and federal lawmakers and policymakers that coastal restoration and protection dollars must be used for their intended purpose and the crippling bureaucracies stopping our coast from being fixed must be eliminated.
CHRIS MACALUSO, Coastal Outreach Coordinator
Louisiana Wildlife Federation