Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Retreat and resilience

We aren't going to save the Louisiana coast.
For 10 years, Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan has represented the state’s vision for preventing its bottom third from being consumed by the Gulf of Mexico.

That vision got a lot grimmer today with the release of the 2017 edition of the plan.

It predicts that even if everything works as planned, 2,800 square miles of coast still could be lost in the next four decades, and about 27,000 buildings may need to be floodproofed, elevated or bought out, including about 10,000 in communities around New Orleans. That’s under the plan’s new worst-case scenario for sea level rise and subsidence.

About 5,900 of those are in St. Tammany, including Mandeville, Covington and Slidell. That includes about 900 that may need to be bought out.

The new plan also has dropped the long-held claim that the state would be building more land than it’s losing by 2065.

Scientists in charge of the Coastal Master Plan said the more dire outlook can be traced to one striking fact: The worst-case scenario for human-caused sea level rise in the 2012 plan, 1.48 feet, has become the best-case scenario in the 2017 edition. In fact, the National Climate Assessment now estimates sea levels on U.S. coastlines could rise 4 feet by 2100.

At one point, many years ago, we could still think of coastal loss as a problem we could solve (as in halt the destruction and reclaim a bit of what was lost) given the necessary amount of money, political will, "awareness", etc.  Later it became a problem we couldn't solve anymore, but one we could possibly mitigate (as in slow the destruction and possibly protect what was still salvageable)... again, assuming the necessary factors and "stakeholders" could come together and get things done.

None of that happened. Because, of course, it was never going to happen.  That isn't how politics works.  Now, we're in a place where the disaster is going to happen no matter what we do.  And the game is more about deciding who bears the greatest costs of that disaster vs who maintains status or even comes out ahead.  Which is to say, we're finally onto the part of the dispute that politics can settle for us.

Given the way our politics is presently oriented, the dispute will be settled in a way that benefits the wealthy and scatters the poor. (Here is an example of that dynamic we highlighted last month.) The part of the coastal master plan that addresses who gets protected vs. who gets scattered is, naturally, the section about "Resilience."

In the 2017 draft, an entire section is devoted to “Flood Risk and Resilience.” It calls for spending up to $6 billion to protect — and in some cases, vacate — properties in areas that can expect flooding during the so-called 100-year storm.

Such a storm has a 1 percent chance of happening in any year. That’s the level of protection provided by the upgraded levee system around metro New Orleans, and it’s the threshold banks use to require flood insurance on mortgaged properties.

The agency says under the current worst-case scenario for sea-level rise, about 27,000 structures in 32 areas along the coast would qualify for one of three types of assistance depending on how badly they would flood. That’s even if the state achieves everything it sets out to do.

The communities include much of the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain, Houma, towns on the west bank of the river in Plaquemines Parish, and a swath of communities stretching from Lake Charles to Morgan City.

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