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Extension Exchange Offers Insights into Storm Recovery

Louisiana Sea Grant lends a helping hand to New York and New Jersey Sea Grant

More than a year and a half after Hurricane Sandy made landfall in the northeast, the Sea Grant programs in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut are still dealing with storm recovery issues – ranging from community resilience and flood insurance to impacts on recreational fisheries and marina reconstruction. In the nearly nine years since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Louisiana Sea Grant has addressed many of the issues Sandy survivors continue to face and may have to manage for years to come.

“Although we offered assistance immediately after Sandy made landfall in October 2012, we realized there’s more we could do for our sister programs as they trek down the long recovery road,” said Rex Caffey, Louisiana Sea Grant and LSU AgCenter Marine Extension leader. “We not only have experience with recovery from Katrina and Rita in 2005, we also had Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008, as well as Hurricane Isaac in 2012.

“We saw an opportunity to do some recovery ‘inreach’ with the Sea Grant programs hardest hit by Sandy, and we opened our doors to them,” Caffey said. “It was a chance for them to not only learn from what went right, but what didn’t go as planned and make them aware of potential pitfalls and issues.”

In May, Pete Rowe, New Jersey Sea Grant Extension leader; Jon Miller, N.J. coastal process specialist; Ryan Orgera, N.J. coastal community resilience project manager; and Jay Tanski, New York Sea Grant costal processes and facilities specialist, flew into New Orleans for a week-long storm recovery learning experience.

“We drove nearly 500 miles and met with about 40 people who shared their Katrina and Rita recovery experiences and perspectives,” said Roy Kron, Louisiana Sea Grant communications director. The group saw first-hand how the town of Delcambre has rebounded, learned that only 60 percent of Cameron Parish’s population has returned, and met with Houma-based engineers about hazard mitigation. They also learned about marina and harbor issues at a New Orleans recreational marina, now shared with commercial fishermen, and when they called on another New Orleans yacht harbor still struggling to get recovery from Katrina off-the-ground. The visitors also heard of the dramatic demographic shift experienced in St. Bernard Parish and met with academics and other Extension professionals about what other recovery resources may be available.

“There were several central themes, including the need for organic and bottom-up approaches; the need for patience; and the need for effective communication among agencies, the states and communities,” said Orgera. “The need to foster local approaches resonated with me most acutely.”

“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said Rowe. “But I came away with a philosophy that includes a lot of ‘patience and perseverance’ to achieve your goals … Individuals and communities must be patient and persistent, with the squeaky wheel getting some grease. A vision is needed to get buy-in and funding to reach the goal of returning a community to its character, while at the same time making it more resilient and forward thinking in the process.”

“One of the things that struck me most was the consistency of the message we received from those impacted regarding the difficulties and, especially, the problems associated with dealing with the various federal agencies involved in relief efforts,” said Tanski. “The situations encountered at the New Orleans Yacht Club and with the owner of the oyster business in St. Bernard were particularly bleak, in my opinion. The fact that no work has been done at the yacht club and that the oysterman’s business was only 30 percent of what it was pre-hurricane – almost ten years after Katrina and Rita – was shocking, as was the condition of the Ninth Ward.

“I’ve already used the information gained from this trip to brief state officials and marina owners who are members of the New York Rising (NY’s version of Louisiana’s Road Home Program) marina subcommittee,” added Tanski. “For the state people it was a cautionary tale that elicited the response of ‘We cannot let that happen here.’”

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