In the fourth installment of our Faces of the Delta series, you will meet John Koeferl: retired carpenter and environmental advocate, fighting to protect "the wetland of our nation."
By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation
Name: John Koeferl
Location: Holy Cross/Gentilly Terrace, New Orleans, Louisiana
Occupation: Retired carpenter, environmental advocate
Tell me about your connection to south Louisiana. I came to New Orleans for graduate school at Tulane and stayed here from then on—loved the city. I raised my family for 20 years in Holy Cross (a neighborhood in the Lower 9th Ward) and moved to Gentilly Terrace 10 days before Hurricane Katrina. (John and his wife kept their home in Holy Cross and are still very active in the neighborhood association there.)
What does south Louisiana mean to you? South Louisiana means home. New Orleans is a special place for me—a unique place on earth. It is not boring; nothing is straightforward.
What are your favorite things about the area? The trees, streets, houses, neighborhoods—I gradually grew to know and appreciate the culture and people. I got involved in politics as a regional planner for historical and archeological sites and was so impressed with the detail and craftsmanship.
How has coastal land loss impacted your life? It’s been awful. We lost our home in Lower Nine, our neighborhood. Almost everyone we knew was affected. Every house was flooded. We weren’t protected. We knew it was going to happen, but no one would listen. The Army Corps has an abusive process that favors special interests, but that doesn’t mean we’re giving up.
Why do you think coastal restoration efforts are important? Restoration is important because the Mississippi River Delta is the wetland of our nation. The estuary is important. People have lived here for generations, making their living off the land. That’s all jeopardized.
What obstacles do you see hindering restoration? I see that Louisiana’s been ceded to special interests that have great political influence and money to keep the cycle going. It’s very harmful and obvious. The media is also part of the problem because they often side with large corporations. Things can change when we vote, but people are too busy and there is so much b–––––––. Change won’t happen automatically: it will require a change in the country’s direction. What we’ve done in the last 100 years has been very misguided. Congress has been a servant of corporations, and what’s happening here is a symptom of a much greater problem.
What should people around the country know about efforts to rebuild New Orleans and surrounding communities and protect this area from another powerful storm that they don’t already know? They should know that we need their help—not just to sign checks, but to reform the way we treat our coast. This is a national problem and responsibility because we are jeopardized by national decisions. It’s been done by Congress because people weren’t aware of the impacts. We don’t need to be rescued, but we need people to realize that this is in their interest. It’s part of one country and one ecosystem.