During the Fall of 2006 it was apparent at Dulac, Lower Dulac, and on Bayou du Large that the activities the marshes generate–the shrimping, the crabbing, the fishing, and the new fishing camps raised on stilts–disguised the disaster than had happened the year before and the disaster happening underfoot. The land is sinking at the rate of 2.1 to 3.5 feet per century.
From Bobtown south, most of the shrimpers who live along Shrimpers’ Row are American Indians, descendants of the families who left Bayou Terrebonne and Bayou Petit Caillou with the onslaught of American settlers between 1810 and 1820. First, they went to Isle de Jean Charles and Pointe Aux Chene, then they moved on to Bayou Grand Caillou, where they made their livings in the marshes. Some lived in the marshes and anchored their houseboats to the narrow ridges along the bayous that meandered through the marshes. The 2000 census showed that 39.4% of Dulac’s residents were Houma Indians and thirty-one percent of Dulac’s residents lived below the poverty line. Few lived in houses on stilts. Most had watched the marshes and some of the solid land that surrounded and protected the village disappear in their lifetimes. All were vulnerable to the next big hurricane.
On September 24, 2005 Hurricane Rita made landfall at Holly Beach in southwestern Louisiana and wiped it off the map. To the east Rita generated an eight-foot storm surge that ripped through the tattered marshes and tracked up the Houma Navigation Channel to Dulac. The surge heaved shrimp boats into yards, washed mud into homes, ripped up marsh grass and rolled it across roads, covered everything with a sheen of diesel fuel, and left hundreds of confused water moccasins to slither back to the marsh.
There was nothing out in front of Dulac to absorb the storm surge. By 2005, twenty miles of swamps and marshes in the Caillou and Boudreaux marshes had slipped under water. If two miles of wetlands can reduce a storm surge by half a foot, as was measured between Cocodrie and Houma during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, twenty miles of wetlands in front of Dulac would have left the town soaked, not trashed.
The Morganza-to-the-Gulf Hurricane Protection Proposal would reach down from Houma and protect towns as far south as the Bayou Sale Road between Bayou Grand Caillou and Bayou Petit Caillou. It would stop just short of Cocodrie. Essentially, the hurricane levee would look like a mitten with its thumb splayed out from its fingers.
Congress authorized the constructure of the Morganza-to-the-Gulf Hurricane project in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2007. A year later the Army Corps of Engineers came up with a new cost estimate for the project: over $10 billion up from a little over $900 million. Hence, Congress will have to reauthorize the project in light of the new figures. It took the Congress seven years to pass the last WRDA.
The cost escalated so much because the Corps will require the construction of a levee that will protect Dulac and Bobtown and the rest of the villages in Terrebonne Parish from a storm that might occur once every hundred years. Never mind that Dulac and Bobtown have been swamped by such storms twice in the last three years–Rita in 2005 and Ike in 2006.
However, construction did begin on six miles of levees near Dulac at a cost of $30 million. The funds come from money Congress authorized after Hurricane Katrina. The new levees will not meet the 100-year criteria and have to be raised when the Morganza project is reauthorized and money becomes available. In the meantime, the new 9-foot levee will help the people who live along Bayou Grand Caillou. It should be completed by this year’s hurricane season.
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For a notion of how people living in Terrebonne Parish and along Bayou du Large, go to http://bayouwoman.wordpress.com.
Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw of Louisiana, Louisiana State Recognized Trives of Lofourche and Terrebonne Parishes, http://www.biloxi-chitimacha.com/grand_caillou_dulac.htm; Oxfam America, “As Coast Erodes, Dulac Looks for Ways to Protect Land and Homes,” http://www.oxfamamerica.org/whatwedo/emergencies/hurricane_katrina/news_publications/feature_story.2005-10-28.8067692797; Archer, Naomi, “Shrimpers’ Row,” Real Reports of Katrina Relief, Sept. 29th Rita Edition, http://flag.blackened.net/pipermail/infoshop-announce/2005-September/000004.html; Tamman, Maurice, “Southern Terrebonne parish sinking into Gulf,” Herald Tribune.com, October 8, 2006, http://www.heraldtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20061008/NEWS/610080752/1006/SPORTS