Lafitte mayor heading to Washington D.C. to press feds for Ida recovery aid

Published: Mar. 20, 2023 at 8:02 PM CDT
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JEAN LAFITTE, La. (WVUE) - Nearly 18 months after Hurricane Ida, many Jean Lafitte homeowners have not returned and several public buildings remain shut down. The town’s mayor is headed to Washington D.C. in an effort to change that, but it seems clear many residents are not coming back.

The road to recovery is filled with obstacles for Barataria residents such as Bennie Alexie.

“I’m hoping to have a home here, and I’m hoping to start gathering things up that we did lose,” Alexie said.

At his home on the southern tip of Barataria, surrounded by water, Alexie still is navigating insurance claims to determine if he can rebuild on family property. He said his land has flooded 16 times in the last 35 years, with Ida being the worst.

“This was the only thing me and my son salvaged from the hurricane, my shrimp boat and the crab boat,” Alexie said.

Alexie said he knows he is lucky to still have his livelihood. But he said low shrimp prices and the threat of major water diversion projects cloud his future. He and others say many neighbors have decided to just move on elsewhere.

But there is progress. Habitat for Humanity has completed the first of an estimated 50 elevated homes it plans to build. And new storm surge-protective sheet pile now lines thousands of feet of Barataria waterway.

“We have levees coming up,” Jean Lafitte mayor Tim Kerner said. “Another levee coming up, (and a) drainage program is about to take off.”

But dozens of others are unable to pay high construction and insurance costs to rebuild in the storm-prone area.

Fisher Middle-High School is a vital part of this community, but it’s been shut down for a year and a half while awaiting federal bureaucrats to decide its fate.

“We are looking for FEMA to give us a determination, whether Fisher High School is a repair or rebuild,” Kerner said. “Also the town hall. Right now, we’re in limbo.”

Students like Miley Rees are grateful that they’ve been taken in at John Ehret High School in Marrero, more than 10 miles away, but she misses Fisher High.

“They won’t be rebuilding it until after we graduate,” she said, “so it feels like we lost a part of our lives.”

Even though they’ve endured hardship and lost friends, those who remain say they hope to stay in the community they love for a long time, in new housing built to more stringent standards to resist future hurricanes. But navigating high insurance costs along Louisiana’s vastly depleted coastline remains a difficult and confusing task.

Dozens of students from Fisher High have been attending John Ehret High School for the last year and a half. Many of them will be moved to Westbank Community School this summer, while they await word on whether Fisher will be rebuilt.

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