I have been watching the PBS series Sinking Cities. So far they have done New York (hurricane Sandy) and Tokyo (any Cyclone you care to mention. They have done a pretty good job of talking about the design efforts and how much money it would take to save these cities. They have also been pretty clear that low lying areas with have to be abandoned. They may even eventually do something on New Orleans, though I am sure that there are other bigger cities at risk like Houston. But what about the Gulf in General. There is no land to cede, no design that will work. I love the Gulf Coast. I have lived in Tampa and New Orleans and my favorite place in the whole world. after the Smoky Mountains, is Apalachicola – I have a shirt from there on now.
Man vs. nature
Can engineering save Louisiana’s coastli
Down at the southern tip of Louisiana, on a barrier island called Grand Isle, the stilts holding up the houses are getting taller. There are about 20 feet of air between the ground and the top of the pilings holding up a new two-story house on the island’s main drag, running parallel to the Gulf of Mexico. Its neighbors, a few hundred single-family homes and weekend getaways with house names on wooden signs, are almost all raised up off the ground. C’est La Vie is propped about 8 feet up. The Salty Oyster: 12 feet. Riptide: about 15. A nameless rectangular bunker made entirely of cast concrete is 10 feet up on top of a grid of concrete columns and a cinderblock ground floor. Down the road, another set of 10-foot pilings is all that’s left.
Building at any height on Grand Isle is a bold proposition. Seven miles long, a mile across at its widest point and just a few feet above sea level, it’s a tall wave away from disappearing into the Gulf. With a steady onslaught of hurricanes, sea-level rise, and land subsidence, the island’s very existence is improbable. And yet remarkable efforts have been made to preserve this small strip of land, including the dredging and piping of sediment from the Mississippi River to build back its southern shore and replanting the disappearing marsh to its north.
Saving the island is partly about saving the homes of roughly 1,100 full-time residents and the estimated 20,000 who come to Grand Isle during the summers, but it’s also a strategic defense for coastal Louisiana and the Mississippi River Delta, where subsiding land and rising waters have caused the loss of more than 2,000 square miles of land between 1932 and 2016, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s about a football field’s worth of land roughly every 100 minutes in recent years. In addition to being a scenic vacation destination, Grand Isle is a crucial buffer that’s helping Louisiana hold on to its delta a little longer.
“You see stories in the media on global climate change and cities like San Francisco or Miami, how they’re going to, 50 years from now, be having recurring tidal flooding and things like that,” says Corey Miller, outreach and engagement director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. “Here in Louisiana, we’re experiencing a little bit of an early glimpse at what that’s going to look like.”
Go there and read. More next week.