Archive for Faces of the Delta


Faces of the Delta: Father Roch Naquin

October 18, 2011 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in Faces of the Delta, People

By Chris Pulaski, National Wildlife Federation

Next in our Faces of the Delta series, you will meet Father Roch Naquin: Isle de Jean Charles native and current resident, priest and coastal restoration advocate.

Name: Father Roch Naquin

Location: Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana

Occupation: Priest

Tell me about your connection to south Louisiana. I was born and raised about 100 feet from my current home in Isle de Jean Charles, La. I was born at 2:00 am on September 25, 1932 to Joseph and Irena Naquin, number four of six children (three boys and three girls). I joined the St. Joseph Seminary in St. Benedict/Covington area north of New Orleans and was there until 1962. I then served across southeast Louisiana until my retirement in 1997.

"The needed sediment for restoration is in the river. We need to pipe or barge it to where it's needed. We need barriers closer to the big lakes. Unless that happens, the inland areas we are protecting now will one day become coast."

What does south Louisiana mean to you? It means home. It is the place where I grew up and the place to stay. It’s special because I learned to appreciate everything the area has to offer: livelihood, peace, food and outdoor opportunities (fishing, trapping, hunting and the ability to grow our own crops). Before the road to the island was built and before the television existed, there was more of a family sense of closeness. On Sundays, you would go from house to house to visit. Trips into town were rare and involved taking a pirogue to the highway and a bus from there to Houma.

What are your favorite things about the area? I still love the opportunities that the area has to offer, although it is a bit different now that you are required to have a license to hunt and fish. I love the sense of community and oneness of the community, the sense of quaintness that the island has (although not as much now that there are a lot of camps and marinas in the area) and the natural beauty of the island.

Why do you think coastal restoration efforts are important and what obstacles do you see hindering restoration? The Gulf is determined to expand. It will take over anything in its way unless there is real interference. It is doing its job. It is doing what it does best which is to destroy. The existing levees cut off sustenance so the marsh can't be nourished. So we are left at the mercy of the Gulf. Manmade canals provide access for saltwater and storm surge to travel further into the marsh, so the storms do not have to be as strong to destroy. The area used to not flood.

The needed sediment for restoration is in the river. We need to pipe or barge it to where it's needed. We need barriers closer to the big lakes. Unless that happens, the inland areas we are protecting now will one day become coast.

What do you fear losing if we don’t take action to restore coastal Louisiana? Seafood. The oil industry. The state and national organizations working on coastal restoration need to help paint the picture for the rest of the nation.

What should people around the country know about efforts to protect this area from another powerful storm that they don’t already know? A Category 5 storm would carry everything to higher land and put us on the beach. There is no stability in the areas.

How do you feel about the suggestion that the people of Isle de Jean Charles move? People don't realize what it means to uproot.

How do you think restoring the wetlands will help the people and economy of the Mississippi River Delta? Areas like the island could begin farming and trapping again. The fur industry could be rebuilt (raccoons and otters, not nutria). The fishing could be improved through increased health in the estuaries.

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Faces of the Delta: Patty Whitney

September 19, 2011 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in Faces of the Delta, People

By Chris Pulaski, National Wildlife Federation

Next in our Faces of the Delta series, readers will be introduced to Patty Whitney: Multigenerational southeast Louisianan, community organizer, restoration advocate and history buff.

Name: Patricia "Patty" Whitney

Location: Thibodaux, Louisiana

Occupation: Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing (BISCO) staff, environmental advocate

Tell me about your connection to south Louisiana. I was born and raised in south Louisiana and have never lived anywhere else (she was one of ten children). This is home. My ancestors have been here for centuries. My children live just a few blocks away from me. Most of my siblings and their children and grandchildren still live in this area. My roots backward are deep in coastal Louisiana, and so are my branches outward and forward.

"Coastal Louisiana is a series of large and small communities and neighbors who live in a very special environment. We are a circle. Once that circle is broken and the pieces are dispersed, it can’t be fixed again."

What does south Louisiana mean to you? South Louisiana means a vibrant and fascinating history. It means warm and open hospitality. It means simple and hardworking people. It means strong and complex cultures. It means intense and deep social patterns. It means a fertile and primordial environment. It means drama and comedy. It means family and food and fun. It’s HOME. It was HOME to my ancestors. It is HOME to me. I hope it will be HOME to my descendants.

What are your favorite things about the area? Besides the obvious of being surrounded by people I love and who love me, my favorite thing about being from here is that we are so unique. We speak differently than other parts of the country. We think differently than other parts of the country. Even our environment is different than anything else in the country. We are the delta of the largest river on the continent. There is only one like it in North America.

We began as a French colony rather than an English colony. French was the native tongue of our land up until the mid 20th century. As a French colony, there was only one religion that was allowed, so everyone here for many generations grew up Catholic. Our unified faith and its traditions have been and still remain an integral part of our unique social structure. Even when we became a Spanish colony, we maintained our language, faith and cultures. These persisted even after we became an American territory and then a state.

We are different. Our food is different, as is the way we prepare it. Our food is a mix of the many unique cultures which populated our coast and the fertility, diversity and abundance of our environment. We are unique, and that is one of my favorite things about southern Louisiana.

How has coastal land loss impacted your life? I guess it’s pretty obvious that the thing I fear most is losing our unique community and becoming an extinct society. Coastal Louisiana is a series of large and small communities and neighbors who live in a very special environment. We are a circle. Once that circle is broken and the pieces are dispersed, it can’t be fixed again. Parts of our “unique community” will gather in other places, but it will never be the same again. We belong here. I fear losing this. And if action isn't taken immediately to restore the coast, my fears will become a reality, and America will lose a valuable treasure that it never really knew it had. But we, the Bayou people, will know and will mourn its loss and our loss.

Why do you think coastal restoration efforts are important? The land itself that we are living on is washing away into the Gulf of Mexico. Without the land, all of the things that make southern Louisiana and make it unique will be gone forever and can never be recreated anywhere else, because the environment we live in plays a major role in our identity. Once our homes and land are gone and we are forced to relocate, “We” as a unique community will no longer exist. Ever.

What obstacles do you see hindering restoration? Environmental injustice is a major part of the reason why we are in the shape we are in today. The major obstacle we face now is that the appetite of others for the natural resources under our land. Governmental bureaucracy is another major obstacle to restoring our coast in time to save the homeland of the over two million coastal Louisiana residents.

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? It’s my impression that most people around the country think everything along the Gulf Coast is back to normal. That is clearly not the case. Pockets of areas are recovering and rebuilding. Many, many more areas from Texas to Alabama are still limping along trying to survive. It hasn't helped that we in the Bayou Region have also experienced major destruction from Hurricanes Rita, Gustav and Ike since that time, along with the ongoing and increasing coastal land loss destruction, which makes us more and more vulnerable to these storms that come along. Much work has been done, but much more is needed.

I would like people around the country to question themselves about who is next. If New Orleans, southern Louisiana, and the entire Gulf Coast are not restored and protected, then who else will not be protected when their communities are threatened by environmental dangers?

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Faces of the Delta: Reverend Tyronne Edwards

September 7, 2011 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in Faces of the Delta, People

Next in our Faces of the Delta series, you will meet Reverend Tyronne Edwards: 5th generation resident of Phoenix, La., community leader and organizer and coastal restoration advocate.

By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation

Name: Reverend Tyronne Edwards

Location: Phoenix, Louisiana (Plaquemines Parish)

Occupation: Founding executive director of Zion Travelers Cooperative Center and facility director for the YMCA of Greater New Orleans

What is your connection to the Mississippi River Delta? I’m a 5th generation resident of Phoenix, Louisiana, which is the very southeast end of Louisiana where the Mississippi River runs into Gulf. We call ourselves the big toe that slipped out of the Louisiana boot. We’re surrounded by three bodies of water in Plaquemines, so the land and water are very important to our survival.

"It’s not just Louisiana, but the entire Gulf coast that needs to be restored, because the whole country depends on the Gulf for our survival."

What does coastal Louisiana mean to you? It means home, and there is no place like home. The culture is like no other culture. Up until the 1950s or so, we had to rely on the land for everything. We still embrace communal living. Everyone shares with each other, and we’re very close knit. We have to be that way because of our geographic location–we’re isolated. I love the interconnection between the people of our community.

What is your favorite thing about the area? I love the serenity here in Phoenix. We don’t have to worry about crime in Phoenix. We don’t have to worry about locked doors. I like the openness, the fresh air, the green space. Every minute I’m here I’m connected to the environment–I can smell grass, see birds. I am connected to the land.

How has coastal land loss impacted your life? We lost everything we had during Hurricane Katrina. It was frightening to us. We now realize that if we had the right protection, the proper barriers–wetlands–we could protect our communities. If nothing is done with the wetlands, another Category Five will come and we’ll be destroyed again. While we rebuild our homes and our community, we keep restoration at the forefront because it’s all null and void if we don’t restore our wetlands.

Why do you think coastal Louisiana restoration is important? Sadly, as someone who’s organized for 40-some years, I didn’t understand the importance of coastal Louisiana land loss until Hurricane Katrina. Then I began to understand what land loss means to us. If nothing is done, 40 years from now we won’t have another Katrina because we won’t even have land here to impact. It’s an integral part of everything we do–not just for my own survival, but for future generations.

What obstacles do you see hindering restoration? Politics and policies. Army Corps contracting for rebuilding and restoration is an obstacle. We are networking with folks all around the area and the country to talk about coming together collectively to hold our government responsible and to advocate that the State takes out favoritism in contracting for restoration projects.

What do you fear losing if we don’t restore the coast? We lose our land. We lose our homes. We have a video about coastal restoration that we show to kids, and one little girl is five years old and she said if we do nothing, we will open our doors and we will walk in water. We won’t have a Plaquemines Parish if we don’t restore the coast. It will be underwater.

What do people around the country need to know about the Mississippi River Delta that they don’t already know? America needs to understand how vulnerable the Mississippi River and Gulf Coast are and the importance of this area. The Gulf of Mexico is our nation’s gateway to the world. Seafood, shipping, energy–it’s very important to the country. And it’s not just Louisiana, but the entire Gulf coast that needs to be restored, because the whole country depends on the Gulf for our survival.

If we’re going to have restoration, we hope folks understand that it’s important that people around the country get their representatives to support us. We can’t do it alone. We need the help of the nation. We need the whole Congress to support us. Louisiana has a stigma. It’s not just “let the good times roll”–it’s much more than that. We have some great people in Louisiana. We want to change the image–we are not all corrupt. I feel good because I think we’re getting a lot of support after Katrina and I think we are changing. I want to build on the momentum to restore the coast.

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Faces of the Delta: Captain Ryan Lambert

August 19, 2011 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in Faces of the Delta, People

By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation

Next in our Faces of the Delta series, you will meet Captain Lambert: founder of Cajun Fishing Adventures, charter boat captain, lifetime South Louisiana resident and coastal restoration advocate.

Name: Captain Ryan Lambert

Location: Buras, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana

Occupation: Charter captain; Board President, Cajun Fishing Adventures; Vice President, Louisiana Charter Boat Association.

Tell me about your connection to south Louisiana. I am South Louisiana! I was born here. I love the culture, the people, and the outdoors. I live and breathe it. I grew up in Luling and run Cajun Fishing Adventures–one of the top five hunting and fishing lodges in North America.

"Coastal restoration efforts are important because it can bring back a national treasure–the richest fishing industry in North America. It is a simple task; Mother Nature made it–you just have to release the Mississippi River back into the delta to restore the wetlands."

What does south Louisiana mean to you? South Louisiana means a different way of life. It is culture-oriented. People live off the land and make their living from their hands. They share with others in the area. It’s unique.

What are your favorite things about the area? My favorite thing is accessibility to an abundance of outdoor activities. Nature is so vast here–we have 41% of our nation’s wetlands.

How has coastal land loss impacted your life? When I think about it, it brings a somber feeling to see what has happened to the richest estuary in North America. It makes me sad that nothing has really started to fix it in 30 years. We still have the top fishing in North America, but I’ve watched it decline over the years at a rapid rate. It saddens me to know the next two or three generations won’t be able to see what I’ve seen.

Then there is Hurricane Katrina–I had 24 feet of standing water in my fishing lodge. It put me out of business for nine months. The oil spill was a lot worse than Katrina for me. I could rebuild after Katrina, but the oil spill is impacting my business. Business was down 94% last year and 75% this year. I’ve had to sue BP. Really, everyone had to sue in my industry  No one was made whole.

Why do you think coastal restoration efforts are important? Coastal restoration efforts are important because it can bring back a national treasure–the richest fishing industry in North America. It is a simple task; Mother Nature made it–you just have to release the Mississippi River back into the delta to restore the wetlands. Doing this tackles the coastal land loss, the dead zone, and reduces greenhouse gases. Losing the wetlands affects everything in the ecosystem. Everyone is connected to this land. For instance, if you’re hunting ducks in Canada, you’re impacted. Without the wintering habitat, it goes. The shrimp, the crabs, the oysters–they go.

What obstacles do you see hindering restoration? The Army Corps of Engineers and oystermen.

What do you fear losing if we don’t take action to restore coastal Louisiana? I fear losing Louisiana. We’ve already lost one-fourth of Southeast Louisiana. It won’t be long before we lose New Orleans because there are no wetlands left to protect us. We’ll lose a national treasure if they don’t get going with it soon.

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 know right now? People need to understand how they are connected to the Mississippi River Delta. Most people don’t realize that if we lose the navigation route along the river due to the coastal land loss, everyone will be impacted because of the shipping implications. It will cost the nation billions of dollars. Our wetlands save the nation money in storm surge and infrastructure protection as well as wildlife habitat.

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Faces of the Delta: Father Vien

August 9, 2011 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in Faces of the Delta, People

By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation

Next in our Faces of the Delta series, you will meet Father Vien: Vietnam refugee, New Orleans priest, urban gardener and coastal restoration advocate.

Name: Father Vien The Nguyen

Location: New Orleans East

Occupation: Chairman of the Board for Mary Queen of Viet Nam (MQVN) Community Development Corporation, former priest at Mary Queen of Vietnam Church in New Orleans

Father Vien, talking about the MQVN Church: I think we are probably the most international parish in New Orleans. We have Caucasian-Americans, Latino-Americans, Vietnamese and African-Americans in this parish. It’s trilingual. Our masses are trilingual: one in Vietnamese, one in English and one in Spanish.

Tell me about your connection to south Louisiana. What brought you to the area? I was born in Vietnam. I came here in 1975 with the fall of the south (Vietnam). First, my family settled in southeast Missouri from 1975 to summer of 1977. Then we moved to New Orleans.

I was 11 years old when I first arrived in America, so in many ways, I grew up here. I attended junior high, high school, college and graduate school here. We came here because we were very isolated in Missouri. We were the only Vietnamese family in probably a 30-mile radius. We didn’t know any English at all. We had no transportation.

"I think the important aspects of coastal restoration are the protection from storm surge, habitat for wildlife and the livelihood of people."

We visited New Orleans in 1976 to visit the Vietnamese priest who was our chaplain in our refugee camp in Arkansas. It was a very heart-warming experience because there was a large number of Vietnamese in the area. We felt very at home because of the language. So we decided to move here in 1977.

What does south Louisiana mean to you? It’s home, in many ways. It’s home because as a priest with the Archdiocese of New Orleans, I have a commitment to New Orleans and the church has a commitment to me. We are committed to each other, and I am bound to New Orleans for the rest of my life. My family grew up here. Part of the Vietnamese culture is that the land is very important because that is where we bury our loved ones. I remember a story with respect to New Orleans East: someone was talking about moving away and the response was you can’t–this is where we buried our dead.

What are your favorite things about the area? The food is exciting. I like the overall atmosphere. It’s very relaxed compared to other locations. About half of my assignments have been in open areas. I don’t like the city. I come from a farming family. We like open areas. New Orleans East (Mary Queen of Vietnam’s location) is more open than the rest of the city. East of this church is 28 acres. We have an urban farming initiative. The farms will go on the 28 acres. One well-known chef here, John Besh, is interested in buying from us. Some others are interested as well.

How has coastal land loss impacted your life? The wetlands weaken storm surges. My understanding is that right now, we are sitting next to Lake Borgne. It used to be that wetlands were some 50 miles from here. Now they're just a few miles–7 or 8.

Also, the community itself has changed. We lost some people. We lost only one to death. We lost some people to evacuation. There are people who have not returned–a few hundred. We have recovered about 95% of our homes. As of now, New Orleans East has no hospital. We used to have two hospitals in New Orleans East. We have none at this point. So we really have to fend for ourselves. It’s easily an hour with typical traffic to be picked up and taken to the hospital in an ambulance. That’s why we’ve established our own clinics. And we rebuilt our own school. In many ways, what we’ve been trying to do this to create a normalcy and a resiliency. If in the future, something like Katrina were to happen again, we will be the ones that decide whether our clinics open or our schools open. The mom and pop stores have returned quite quickly.  The nearest major grocery store is probably 10 miles from here and that didn’t open until about two or three years after Katrina.

Why do you think coastal restoration efforts are important? What do you think are the most crucial aspects of Mississippi River Delta restoration? I think the important aspects are the protection from storm surge, habitat for wildlife and the livelihood of people. I’m talking about oysters, talking about shrimping, talking about crabbing, fishing, etc. Losing that is losing a major aspect of the food industry.

What obstacles do you see hindering restoration? Two obstacles. One: Education. So that people can learn more about it and know the dynamics. The other obstacle is funding. Since it costs a lot, there has to be a passionate will to carry it out and to say, “This is important. This is something we need to do.”

What do you fear losing if we don’t take action to restore coastal Louisiana? Losing this place. Cities, people and all of that which has sustained people throughout the U.S. and New Orleans. The land loss will continue. The erosion will continue. Where does it stop? There has to be an agreement between the storms and the people or it will continue to carve into this nation.

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Faces of the Delta: Justin Mack

July 28, 2011 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in Faces of the Delta

By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation

Next in our Faces of the Delta series, you will meet Justin Mack: New Orleans native, environmental educator and restoration advocate.

Name: Justin Mack

Location: Lower 9th Ward, New Orleans, Louisiana

Occupation: Science Coordinator at Martin Luther King, Jr. Charter School in the Lower 9th Ward

Tell me about your connection to south Louisiana. I was born in New Orleans and moved to Houston as a child. I came back to New Orleans for grad school at LSU in February 2005, and I have family here.

"Restoration is most important because it protects people and the community from future flooding and disaster. It maintains human life."

What does south Louisiana mean to you? South Louisiana is the cultural heart of the state. It’s a major economic and cultural heart of the south.

What are your favorite things about the area? I enjoy the laid-back lifestyle, food and fun!

How has coastal land loss impacted your life? The destruction of Hurricane Katrina. I started grad school the month Hurricane Katrina came and I worked in the East Jefferson Hospital at night. My school was uprooted and moved to Baton Rouge. I lived in the hospital for a month, sleeping in a hospital room.

I came to MLK School in the Spring of 2008. Today, the students are more aware of their environment.

Why do you think coastal restoration efforts are important? Restoration is most important because it protects people and the community from future flooding and disaster. It maintains human life.

What obstacles do you see hindering restoration? Lack of funding and mistrust of the Army Corps and government (in New Orleans).

What do you fear losing if we don’t take action to restore coastal Louisiana? The ability to recover because people will lose their fight and the nation will lose interest.

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 know right now? Where someone chooses to live somewhere — it’s their right to live there. No one’s home or community is more important than others.

How do you think restoring the wetlands will help the people and the economy of coastal Louisiana/the state/the nation? The fishing industry would be helped because you restore ecosystems to bring back fish, crustaceans and other wildlife. Restoring the coast also creates green jobs. It will also give people confidence in their home so they will feel comfortable and safe. It will be good for people to see things getting done (restore confidence in the government).

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Faces of the Delta: John Koeferl

July 14, 2011 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in Faces of the Delta, People

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.)

John Koeferl: Restoration is important because the Mississippi River Delta is the wetland of our nation.

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.

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Faces of the Delta: Alberta Lewis

June 22, 2011 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in Faces of the Delta

In the third installment of our Faces of the Delta series, you will meet Alberta Lewis: long-time New Orleans-area resident, plantation owner, delta restoration advocate, and king cake doll creator.

Name: Alberta Lewis

Location: Arabi/Poydras, St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana

Occupation: Retired business owner, miniature porcelain artist (designs king cake dolls for a well-known bakery), plantation owner and community activist.

Tell me about your connection to south Louisiana. I was born in the 9th Ward of New Orleans in 1923 and lived in the area for almost my entire life.  I grew up and went to school in the Lower 9th Ward and attended college at Tulane.  I live in Arabi, but I also own Sebastopol Plantation in Poydras (both in St. Bernard Parish).

Alberta Lewis is a long-time resident of the New Orleans area. Here, she stands in the yard of the St. Bernard Parish School Board, behind her is the Murphy Oil refinery (Chalmette, Louisiana).

What does south Louisiana mean to you? When I think of South Louisiana, I don’t immediately see industry.  I remember the area more from the past – special people and a lifestyle based upon living off the land and water and all of the good things that come from that – cooking, festivals, and families being together.  Happiness and joy: trees, animals, birds were all a part of our lives.  We were very connected to the environment.

What are your favorite things about the area? Much of what was addressed above.  Also, Mardi Gras!  My family has always been very involved in the festival and traditions that come with it, like making the king cake dolls.

How has coastal land loss impacted your life? The impact began when I was a child – crossing the industrial canal bridge – which separated two historic neighborhoods.  The canal was built and introduced saltwater to a freshwater ecosystem and caused degradation.  The Mississippi River Gulf Outlet crystallized the damage and failed to be used to the extent promised by the government, and the community invested in the dredging and maintenance of that channel for many decades.

During Hurricane Katrina, I had two homes.  The home in Arabi was not flooded during Hurricane Betsy, but it was in Katrina.  It was a very special neighborhood – very racially mixed – but very comfortable and respectful.  After Katrina, when I passed through the Lower 9th Ward, and still today, my heart aches.  So I lost one home in Katrina to flooding and a lot of family history was lost.  My family had deep roots there and the community doesn’t exist anymore.  There were a lot of older people in that community and I see a lot of despair among the seniors.  They don’t have their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren.  Younger generations had to move out; they had to work, they needed schools for their children.  Families were separated and we lost our nativity and our nest.  Overnight we lost that relationship.  It is still difficult to visit my old home in Arabi because I see the connectivity lost in my own family.  The “pass-alongs” were very important and they are gone.

Why do you think coastal restoration efforts are important? Restoration is important because coastal land was too fragile for it to have been used by government and industry in the way that it has.  Because of oil and gas and shipping uses, there has been a snowball effect of land loss.  Destruction begat more destruction.  We should go back to the old ways of using the river and elevating homes – building them as they used to be – by shuttering and storm-proofing homes.

What obstacles do you see hindering restoration? Funding, organizational problems – within government – and getting people’s voices solidly behind the cause.

What do you fear losing if we don’t take action to restore coastal Louisiana? I fear losing the future of my family.  We have a lot of nativity – families in the same area for generations – and when you lose that, you can’t bring it back.  A part of our loss will be that we won’t know our future.  You used to know your future was in the area.  My family lost it – I have three children – and I’m so sad about it.

What should people around the country know about efforts to rebuild New Orleans and surrounding communities and to protect this area from another powerful storm? Not enough people know how much this American Delta means to the rest of the country.  They go to the grocery store or turn on the lights, but they don’t think about where it comes from.

How do you think restoring the wetlands will help the people and the economy of coastal Louisiana/the state/the nation? Restoration will provide stabilization – not just lining the coast as it grows, but protection – safety of the people and with that a renewal of community that has been torn into shreds.

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Faces of the Delta: Chris Dier

June 10, 2011 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in Faces of the Delta

In the second installment of our Faces of the Delta series, you will meet Chris Dier: Wetlands restoration advocate, Chalmette resident, and Louisiana culture enthusiast.

Name: Chris Dier

Location: Chalmette, Louisiana

Occupation: Student, University of New Orleans

Tell me about your connection to south Louisiana. I was born in New Orleans East and raised in Chalmette until age 17.  My family moved to East Texas after Katrina, but moved back in 2006 to live in a FEMA trailer and rebuild our old house in Chalmette in 2007.

"Loss of wetlands abolished natural barriers from hurricanes that southeast Louisiana has depended on for centuries." - Chris Dier, standing in front of the Central Wetlands Unit near New Orleans

What does south Louisiana mean to you? South Louisiana means “home.”  It means everything to me.  One of the reasons I get so involved in the community is because it means the world to me.  I love the diversity and culture.

What are your favorite things about the area? People.  Amazing people!  And also food, culture, dialect, history, festivals – Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, Voodoo Festival!

How has coastal land loss impacted your life? It destroyed my high school, my church, and my home.  It destroyed the community in general and I had no one to turn to because everyone was affected.  The places I shopped, I ate: the loss of wetlands created the catastrophe of 2005, and it will happen again if things don’t change.

In general, loss of wetlands abolished natural barriers from hurricanes that southeast Louisiana has depended on for centuries.

After Hurricane Katrina, Chris and his family returned to Chalmette to rebuild their home.

Talk about why you think coastal restoration efforts are important. Restoration is most important because it protects the lives of people who live there and protects the economy of southeast Louisiana.  It protects refineries and other essential aspects of the American economy that would be very damaging to the country if lost forever.

What obstacles do you see hindering restoration? A few things:  1. Government officials who cater to big corporations that are profit-oriented and ignorant of the plight of the coast; 2. The lack of awareness of Americans in general; 3. The Army Corps doesn’t adequately communicate with the people affected by their projects.

What do you fear losing if we don’t take action to restore the Mississippi River Delta? Homes, lives, culture: everything!

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 know right now? They should know that not everything is back to normal or completed.  There is still a lot of work to do.  Come visit us!  Get informed.  Check out websites like www.MRGOmustgo.org or www.Levees.org and educate yourself.

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Faces of the Delta: Mike Hymel

May 23, 2011 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in Faces of the Delta

"Faces of the Delta" is a community profile series that shines light on the diverse and unique cultures of Southeast Louisiana.  During the next few months, readers will learn what coastal Louisiana means to a fisherman on the bayou, a faith leader in the Vietnamese community of New Orleans East, a teacher in the Lower 9th Ward, and many more community leaders who know that restoring the coastal wetlands of Louisiana is key to community recovery after the catastrophes of Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil disaster, as well as the prosperity of the nation.  Share these profiles and give others the inside look at the heart of coastal Louisiana. - Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation

Name: Mike Hymel

Location: Barataria, Louisiana

Occupation: Former commercial fisherman (displaced by Hurricane Katrina); currently a construction supervisor.  Also, a singer/songwriter and maker of a seasoning blend!

Tell me about your connection to south Louisiana. I was born and raised in New Orleans (Mid-City).

What does south Louisiana mean to you? South Louisiana means home.

What are your favorite things about the area? Food.  Music.  Culture.  Sustainable natural resources (like fisheries).

How has coastal land loss impacted your life? It put me out of the shrimping business.  It destroyed my boat, which [during the storm] was anchored in a place historically protected from storm surge, but the surge was too fast and high due to lack of coastal wetlands.

In general, it makes us more vulnerable to storm surge and it’s preceding the collapse of fisheries.

Why do you think coastal restoration efforts are important? Restoration is most important because it provides flood protection and maintains the ecology we depend on for fisheries.  This has a huge economic impact.  The coast is also an important aspect of culture — catching food is extremely important to people on the coast.

To me, the most crucial projects are barrier island restoration and maintenance: necking down passes (making them smaller), interior marsh restoration, shoreline protection and freshwater diversions.

What obstacles do you see hindering restoration? Politics

What do you fear losing if we don’t take action to restore coastal Louisiana? I fear losing storm surge protection and our fisheries.

What should people around the country know about efforts to rebuild New Orleans and surrounding communities and to protect this area from another powerful storm that they don’t know right now? One-third of commercial seafood comes from south Louisiana.  New Orleans is an economic engine for the country with the fifth largest port.  Coastal Louisiana restoration can serve as an economic boom for the country during this recession and perform a range of much needed work in various fields.

New Orleans and south Louisiana were chosen as a settlement because it was far enough from the Gulf and the river formed high places to live.  The location was protected in the midst of a rich ecosystem.  Indians from thousands of years ago lived here because the place thrived and you could live off of the land and be out of the water.  Now we are in a constant state of land loss.  A cultural phenomenon is being lost.  Other people wouldn’t want to lose their culture.

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