Isle De Jean Charles climate refugee relocations begin

Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 5:37 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - After five years of planning, and 48 million federal dollars, longtime residents of Isle de Jean Charles began making their move to higher ground Thursday. These ‘climate refugees’ never wanted to leave their old homes, but most believe life there is no longer sustainable.

At one time it was the ancestral home for dozens of Native Americans, but after losing more than 22,000 acres of surrounding wetlands, life on Isle de Jean Charles became too hard.

Island Road, now surrounded by a rock dike goes underwater during even moderate tides, prompting the federal government to step in with a first of its kind grant.

“It’s bittersweet because they’re losing a connection to Isle de Jean Charles. This is a painful thing to do but they know it’s in their best interest, said Gov. John Bel Edwards.

It’s painful because many native Americans, forced from higher ground, have made Jean Charles home for hundreds of years. They lived off the land and the water until the land disappeared.

“I love Louisiana and I know you as governor you do too but for $48 million we can’t erase Isle de Jean Charles. I want to enjoy it as long as I can,” said relocated resident Chris Brunet.

He will be able to keep his home for weekends, but it can no longer serve as a primary residence, in a community where most homes lie in shambles after repeated hurricanes including Ida, one year ago.

This climate refugee relocation is seen as a model for more coastal relocations to come, but at this point, the state only has one other climate-related relocation project underway.

“We have some repetitive flood loss people in New Roads and we’ve relocated those people but we have to convert their homes to green space and then move them to their new home, we didn’t do that here,” said Edwards.

Terrebonne officials are doing whatever they can to make Isle de Jean Charles residents feel welcome, 40 miles away from their tribal homes.

“If anyone makes you feel not welcome let me know I’ll go rough them up for you,” said Rep. Beryl Amedee (R-Houma), with a smile.

After living for 89 years on the rapidly disappearing Isle de Jean Charles, Father Roch Naquin welcomes a new home that’s built to withstand 150 miles an hour winds on mostly solid ground.

Eventually, new isle, carved from an old sugar cane field, will include fishing areas, a community center and a market in an effort to replicate a home many will never return to.

While 120 people with ties to Isle de Jean Charles have decided to take new homes, 4 long-time residents decided to stay put.


Louisiana works on a multi-million dollar plan to reclaim some of the wetlands Hurricane Ida destroyed

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