The face of coastal erosion in Louisiana is often defined by the most visibly threatened communities. Towns that are literally trying to determine how long they have before they might have to move. And while there’s few people calling on New Orleans residents to start making Plan B’s, some local leaders are trying to get their constituents to be more aware.
For the past decade Austin Badon has officially represented New Orleans East’s District 100 in the state legislature. But he’s unofficially been a local tour guide for a lot longer. “I’ve spent almost all of my life in New Orleans East," says Badon, as he steers his Red Humvee from his office parking lot onto Bullard Avenue.
His local tour has come to include some new sites over the past decade. He continues.
“We are headed South, we are headed to the Orleans/St. Bernard border, we're going to take a look at the wetlands that were greatly damaged. Tthe interesting point of these wetlands, the silhouette and the city is right there.”
Badon hops out of his car at a spot he knows well. From where he stands the Superdome is a straight shot across Bayou Bienvenue. He fished near here with his dad as a kid. Now he takes his kayak out to the same spot, and explores the changing landscape.
“The grasses have all gone. All of these grasses help with storm protection, that curtailed the wind, they block the wind, they stop the water from moving in. The land was all out here; now it’s gone.”
Badon has watched as his favorite local swamp has gradually become open water.
He’s trying to get his constituents, even if they don’t make the short drive to St. Bernard, to care. But he says it’s out of sight, out of mind for many. “We’re close to the coast, yet we’re not on the coast. We can’t relate to Morgan City, or Houma, or Grande Isle, because lot of people in New Orleans have not been to those locations.”
But Badon says he’s determined to be part of the conversation on coastal issues even though his community has a new levee. He knows human engineering might not be enough as the nearby marshland turns into a bay. “The Gulf of Mexico is going to inundate coastal communities, fishing communities, and other communities along the coast. And its going to be on our doorstep.”
At a June press conference marking the opening of hurricane season, Badon joined other state legislators and local and national environmental agencies to discuss coastal erosion. At the podium, he spoke on taking the step from knowledge to action. “We know what’s going on, we have an opportunity to address and curtail this problem. I’ll offer my fullest cooperation and whatever I can do, and I’m just glad to be here to address this issue.”
Badon has also made a point of using his votes in Baton Rouge to show solidarity with his coastal colleagues.
"They have a real concern that their home is not going to be there in the next decade or two," he says. "They have a real concern that they’re not going to have something to leave to their children or their grandchildren. I understand it. I appreciate it."
Badon’s house had water up to its kitchen countertops after Katrina. He remembers somebody driving a boat down one of the main streets near his office. As Badon watches other coastal residents contemplate the future of their homes, he empathizes with that uncertainty.
"Nine years ago, when Katrina came, there’s was a question as to whether this city would continue to exist. And there were a lot of people around the country who said, 'How can you live there? Look at what happened, why would you want to live there?'"
Badon has an answer for that question. Home is a powerful thing. And he wants his constituents to not be complacent about the Louisiana's dynamic coast. It may not be at their driveways, but it could be just around the corner.