Community To Get $52M For Relocation

HOUMA, LA (AP) — Residents of Isle de Jean Charles could be moved into a brand new community in Schriever by 2019, more than a decade after their fight for relocation first began.

         The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced last week Louisiana will receive $92 million as part of a nationwide disaster resiliency competition. The $1 billion competition resulted in monetary awards to various states and communities across the country, New Orleans included, that were affected by major disasters from 2011-2013, with Hurricane Isaac the driving storm for the state's proposal.

         Of Louisiana's portion, $52 million will be spent relocating the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians. The remaining $40 million will be used to create the Louisiana Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments Program, or LA SAFE.

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         Previous attempts by Chief Albert Naquin to move his people date back to 2002, but have each come up short. Many of the island's residents are elderly tribal members who were born and raised on the island.

         "I'm flying as high as a kite," Naquin said in a phone interview. "I was talking to someone earlier and they asked when I was going to come down. I told him I'd like to stay up here a little longer. I hope I can come down in time to be able to walk on the new grounds."

         In a news release, HUD showed a blueprint community placed along La. 24 in Schriever across the highway from St. Bridget's Church. A sign out in front of the property read "HUD Housing Coming Soon." HUD held workshops for island residents on Monday and Tuesday.

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         Naquin said they hadn't yet settled on a location, but the Schriever site had been a tribe favorite.

         "I think that's the area we like most," he said.

         "I don't care if it's better than over here, but I would at least want some of the similar things that I have over here," the Rev. Roch Naquin added.

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         Only 320 acres are left of an island that officials estimate was more than 22,000 acres 60 years ago. Experts suspect the island will be completely submerged within 50 years.

         Chris Brunet has long wrestled with the idea of leaving the island. Originally supporting relocation, Brunet has opposed efforts in recent years. But said he wants to remain a part of the community.

         "We've got a whole lot of history on this small island. To pack up and leave is a difficult thing," he said. "I just don't want to let go of it. It's been home and where else is home?"

         "But for the sake of the community, because we're down to so little, I have to say yes" to moving, he said.

         A big sticking point in previous relocation efforts has been ownership of the island property. A 2003 survey showed there was interest in moving if the residents could keep their land on the island.

         Under the HUD proposal, they will.

         "We have heard that loud and clear," said Pat Forbes, executive director of the Louisiana Office of Community Development-Disaster Recovery Unit. "The objective of helping them maintain their culture."

         Roch Naquin said he'll likely join the tribe in moving north. As a Catholic priest, he is used to moving around, though never anywhere permanent.

         "I think I'd have to do some more thinking about it, gain more clarity," he said from his island home. "But if it will help the overall community, I think I want to be part of that."

         Intended to complement the state's $50 billion, 50-year Coastal Master Plan, LA SAFE focuses on the relocation, protection and enhancing of coastal communities.

         Coastal communities are assessed three risk grades: resettlement, retrofit or reshape.

         Resettlements are worst-case scenarios for communities that may not survive the next 50 to 100 years, such as Isle de Jean Charles. A retrofit is a working coastal community of fisherman or oil and gas companies whose lives are tied to the coast. Projects include elevating homes or businesses, or providing generators for the businesses.

         Reshaping are low-risk coastal communities, like St. John the Baptist Parish, that the state hopes to enhance with projects that would improve things like water supply, transportation or affordable housing.

         "What we did was say we're going to assess risk in certain places, knowing we've got working coasts. We're going to try and identify how we'll make community developments in each of these types of places," Forbes said.

         The timeline to spend the money is a short one. The money must be tied to a project by September 2017 and construction has to be finished by September 2019. Forbes said there's room to get an extension on construction up to 2022.

         Forbes and a team will review coastal projects that fit the criteria over the next few months and hope to produce a priority list over the summer. Public meetings will be held, he said, but he's not sure when or where yet.

         – by AP/ Reporter Jacob Batte with The Courier

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