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Elevated Houses and Multiple Lines of Defense in the Louisiana Wetlands and in the Missouri and Tennessee Wetlands

Multiple Lines of Defense Graphic

In January as we were all talking about the inauguration of a new president and his stimulus program, I wrote several times about infrastructure as stimulus. I included this graphic that comes from the Comprehensive Recommendations Supporting the Use of the Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy to Sustain Coastal Louisiana, published in August 2007. The writers’ strategy was a planning tool that set priorities and coordinated restoration methods and coastal habitat and flood protection projects. The report acknowledged the importance of flood protection, both engineered and coastal habitat restoration, but with an emphasis on wetlands as flood protection. For example: most hurricane levees are adjacent to fresh water environments. Therefore, to protect the levees from wind and water, cypress forests should be planted out front of the levees. They also recommended elevating house, both in front of hurricane levees and behind.

Elevated House, St. Charles County, Missouri

People have been building elevated recreational houses in the batture lands between the levees and the Mississippi since the passage of the 1944 Flood Control Act, when Congress allowed the Corps of Engineers to lease locations in Corps-owned land for recreational sites. In the 1950s the Corps offered subdivisions along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers to be developed for recreational cottages. By 1988, when the Corps began to phase out the program, 764 privately-owned cottages dotted the shoreline along the river and its sloughs and on islands on land leased from the Corps of Engineers.

Elevated House along Sandy Slough, St. Charles County, Missouri

Howver, during the Flood of 1993, people found they had not elevated their houses high enough.

At the turn of the century 376 cottages remained in fourteen subdivisions. After the flood owners abandoned 220 destroyed cottages, or their leases were revoked for non-compliance. Once a lease was abandoned, the Corps returned the land to the floodplain and rezoned it for vegetative management. However, owners of well-built and well-maintained structures can expect to maintain their leases on the floodplain indefinitely.

In 1993 The National Wildlife Federation identified 1.382 properties, the most in the country, that had flooded repeatedly in the floods of 1973, 1986, and 1993 at the cost to the taxpayer of $58,017,815 in flood insurance payments. In those days, you could see the flood coming and buy insurance a mere five days before it arrived. After the 1993 flood FEMA changed it to a fifteen day waiting period.

All these lands are a part of the Upper Mississippi Conservation Area, 14,906 acres of lands devoted to wildlife scattered in eighty-seven tracts. Managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation, the refuge is located on lands, owned by the Corps, both on the floodplain and on the islands. The conservation area is devoted to habitat for ducks, giving them rest on their migration south, and giving duck hunters controlled access to public lands between the Des Moines River and Lock and Dam 26 and Alton, Illinois.

Down along Bayou du Large south of Theriot, Louisiana my friend Wendy Wilson Billiot, Bayou Woman, elevated an eighty-year-old cypress house, Camp du Large, she restored in the summer of 2008, only to see Hurricane Ike flood it and the house she lives in further down the bayou. At one point she thought she would have to abandon her plan to rent the Camp du Large to duck hunters and anglers and live in it. But with help she was able to restore her primary residence, which was already elevated, but not enough to keep out flooding from Ike in 2008 and Rita in 2005. Wendy explains the ins and outs of flood insurance and elevating houses in Louisiana in light of recent hurricanes.

Wendy Wilson Billiot's Camp duLarge, Bayou du Large, Louisiana

This week the Thibodaux Daily Comet had an article about elevating houses in the Louisiana wetlands and about building houses that float. Floating houses act like a floating dock and are anchored in place by tall poles that guide the house up and down and keep it from floating away come flood time

Floating House Open Lake, Ashport Bottom, Lauderdale County, Tennessee

Fifteen years ago I found such a house at Open Lake on Ashport Bottom in Lauderdale County, Tennessee. The northern short of Open Lake, a large bottomland lake that may have formed when the land sank during the New Madrid earthquake, is the Chickasaw National Wildlife Refute. The southern shore is private land, unprotected by levees, where people have built their club houses.

Finally, two years ago, I spent a day with Max Latham, who works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and keeps as eye out on the Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Mr. Latham has lived all his life between the hurricane levees and the Mississippi River levee that protect his hometown of Buras, Louisiana, and has seen his house and his village washed away in Hurricane Betsy in 1965, Camille in 1972, and Katrina, which made land fall at Buras with a 20-foot storm surge in 2005. At the time he was living in a steel shipping container, the type that is loaded onto a container ship. But he had plans for a new house, a concrete house built on concrete piers and elevated above the seventeen-f00t height of the hurricane levee that protects Buras. The next storm surge that washes over that levee, will wash under his house. And if it is higher than his piers, it will wash through his house, leaving it in tact.


3 Responses

  1. As a proponent of MLDS, I have been advocating for government $$ for those who could never afford insurance, have flooded multiple times, and still don’t qualify for the IIC (Increased Cost of Compliance) funds, which are directly attached to flood policies, to defray the expense of elevation. These, in my mind, are the folks who need the help the most—the elderly, disabled, and those on fixed income. Thanks for the informative post.

  2. […] was the point of the Comprehensive Recommendations Supporting the Use of the Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy […]

  3. I used to be suggested this web site by means of my cousin. I am no longer sure whether or not this post is written by him as nobody else understand such detailed approximately my problem. You’re wonderful! Thank you!

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