Future Flooded with Uncertainty in Port Sulphur The Bush administration wants Congress to authorize billions to bolster New Orleans levees. But most of Plaquemines Parish is not included in the request. Communities such as Port Sulphur fear they'll be left out.
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Future Flooded with Uncertainty in Port Sulphur

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Future Flooded with Uncertainty in Port Sulphur

Future Flooded with Uncertainty in Port Sulphur

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

There was good news from the Bush Administration this week for people in New Orleans and surrounding parishes. The Administration will ask Congress for billions of dollars to bolster levies, enough to keep flood insurance premiums affordable. But one parish was largely left out and NPR's Jeff Brady reports its residents worry their community may never come back.

JEFF BRADY reporting:

Plaquemines Parish is a long, narrow peninsula that juts out into the gulf of Mexico. The rural towns here were hit hard by Katrina. In some places, entire communities were leveled. President Bush's Federal Coordinator of Gulf Coast Rebuilding, Donald Powell, says the money the administration will ask for will protect 98 percent of the region's population. But most of Plaquemines Parish falls within that other two percent. Powell says more research is needed.

Mr. DONALD POWELL (Federal Coordinator of Gulf Coast Rebuilding): Considerations of environmental issues; engineering issues; economic issues; all those issues will be at the foreplay of that particular decision.

BRADY: Powell said the decision will be data-driven, a phrase that worries Jeremy Guilbeau; his family had a store, gas station and café in Port Sulphur.

Mr. JEREMY GUILBEAU (Resident, Port Sulphur): Well, it just seems like they're going to look at the numbers. And they're not going to look at the human side of it.

BRADY: The numbers don't look very good. About 15,000 people live in the lower part of Plaquemines Parish. The cost to protect the area, about $1.6 billion, is almost as high as it is for New Orleans. Guilbeau has lived all of his 25 years here and wants to stay. He says fishing and golfing are just a few minutes away. And you can't go anywhere without running into someone you know. A few months back, his family was optimistic about Port Sulphur's future, and started construction on a new store and café.

Mr. GUILBEAU: So now what we're really worried about is how much money might we have wasted just now, starting this major rebuild, to found out that FEMA is going to cut us off and leave us to the water.

BRADY: There is some levy work going on right now. But the question is whether the federal government will pay the price to strengthen the levees enough to keep flood insurance rates affordable.

(Soundbite of traffic)

BRADY: Robert Crosby lives in Port Sulphur, right along the road where trucks drive by every few minutes, hauling the tons of soil used to repair the levees. His house is gone and he lives in a FEMA trailer. Crosby says he'll wait before making any big decisions about rebuilding.

Mr. ROBERT CROSBY (Resident, Port Sulphur): They had always said if it ever hit here hard, they weren't going to let people re-inhabit this. Only people of means could come back here. By that they meant people who could afford to lose whatever they put here and replace it themselves.

BRADY: Plaquemines Parish President Benny Rousselle says there's a lot of pessimistic thinking going on right now. He and council members are lobbying federal officials, and asking people all over the country to support the parish.

Mr. BENNY ROUSSELLE (President, Plaquemines Parish): If we take the attitude, and the country takes the attitude, that we have expendable communities, that when a disaster hits in a community, and we turn our back on them and decide that it is not cost effective to protect them, where does that leave the rest of the nation?

BRADY: Rousselle says he expects to know more about funding for Plaquemines' levees within a couple of months.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, New Orleans.

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