Louisiana Highway 1, or just LA-1, is the longest continuous road in the state, running from the northeast corner down to Grand Isle. One particular stretch of it poses a particular challenge: as coastal erosion and sea level rise continue at rapid rates in southern Louisiana, LA-1 is more consistently flooded. This leaves residents and anyone who needs to travel the road inconvenienced at best, and in peril at worst.
The two-lane highway is also a vital link for industry, as the only road into and out of Port Fourchon for the thousands of workers and big-rig trucks that travel to and from the industrial complex each day.
I recently traveled this southern stretch of LA-1, beginning in Larose, Louisiana at the Wild Game Supper, an annual fundraiser for the Larose Civic Center. Dozens of teams cook dishes like nutria stew, white-tailed deer dirty rice, and redfish courtbouillion. These cooks are perfectly poised to talk about coastal erosion and its impact on the land around LA-1, as they spend many of their working days along the water working for the offshore oil and gas industry, and their recreation time hunting and fishing.
Casey Curole, one of the event coordinators, says saltwater intrusion has let to an extreme loss of land in his lifetime. "These days I have a camp out in the marsh and I caught 11 ducks this year. There's just no habitat left to bring ducks down here anymore."
Glenn Brunet and his team, the Cut Off Fishing Club, are making redfish courtbouillion. "The fishing is good, the fishing is great," he says, "because of coastal erosion we have more places to fish." But the disappearing land changes things. "I gave up hunting because the conditions just aren't right, you know?"
Pat Brady is one of the founders of the Wild Game Supper. He started it with his brother, John, now deceased, as an event for friends. "I'm looking at places I used to hunt that are open water," he says.
That's in part due to the area's history with oil. Taking oil out of the marsh sort of deflated the land, already a dynamic delta system prone to sinking. Then the dredging of canals through the marsh to get to those oil and gas resources let in more saltwater.
"The oil industry does have good salary structure and they've taken good care of their employees, but it's a high price to pay," Brady says.
If all the marsh washes away outside of the levee system, protecting Larose and the other communities along Bayou Lafourche will become a bigger challenge. Open water, with no wetlands to slow it down, can move around unchecked, building strength and wave action.
More on how local officials are working to shore up their communities, and raise the money to do it, as the ride along Louisiana 1 continues.
Support for coastal reporting on WWNO comes from the Walton Family Foundation, the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Kabacoff Family Foundation, and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.