Robbed of natural defenses, Lafitte residents cry out for levees - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Robbed of natural defenses, Lafitte residents cry out for levees

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Albert Darda stands next to sign his daughter hung on family home in Jean Lafitte, demanding levee protection (John Snell) Albert Darda stands next to sign his daughter hung on family home in Jean Lafitte, demanding levee protection (John Snell)

Jean Lafitte, La. -- The sign Albert Darda's daughter hung outside the family home captures the sentiment of this fishing community: "Where is our levee protection?"

"She told me about the sign.  I said, 'Baby, look, if we can get levee protection, I don't mind the sign at all,'" Darda said.

People in Lafitte, Barataria and Crown Point rattle off the names of past storms -- Rita, Ike, Lee and others -- and the damage they inflicted. 

The memories are all too fresh in a community that, to one degree or another, has been struck six times since Hurricane Katrina.

"I mean, I know it's hard on people," said Jean Lafitte Mayor Tim Kerner.  "I think they feel like I do, that we're not going anywhere.  We love this area and we're going to fight to keep it."

People here feel squeezed between storm surge from the Gulf and someone else's storm protection to the north.  The world's largest drainage pumping station on the Intracoastal Waterway operated for the first time during Isaac.

The Lafitte area is a poster child for coastal land loss.  With their natural defenses gone, the Gulf of Mexico has come knocking during even smaller storms.

"The main problem we have here is there's no more coastline left out here to the south of us," Darda said.  "The coastline is gone."

Kerner notes oil and gas canals dug to fuel the country accelerated the land loss.

He points to his tiny community's importance in luring tourists to New Orleans restaurants: "They want to eat some good Gulf-caught seafood.  We're the ones that catch 'em."

Kerner says he has a commitment from Governor Bobby Jindal to use a portion of BP oil fine money for a "ring levee" around Jean Lafitte, Crown Point and Barataria.

The state's coastal Master Plan includes a 16-foot-high levee at a cost of $875 million.  However, Kerner is pushing for a 10-foot levee as a starting point.  The mayor says experts have shown him cost estimates of $300 million.

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