A new report says commuting statistics indicate that coastal parishes are losing residents because of coastal erosion. And it says those left behind tend to be those who cannot afford to move.
The Data Center, based in New Orleans, said that in Plaquemines Parish, 72 percent of all workers commute into the parish, up from 69 percent in 2004, The New Orleans Advocate reported.
“Coastal populations facing rising sea levels are moving to higher ground,” according to The Data Center’s report. “Repeated flooding, frequent evacuations and inability to get insurance are all factors that have contributed to residents’ decisions to migrate inland. The population left behind is on average older, poorer or otherwise vulnerable.”
The increase was faster in Lafourche Parishes – from 41 percent in 2004 to 51 percent in 2011. And 48 percent of Terrebonne Parish jobs are held by commuters, up 8 percent from 2004. However, Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet said an economic boom is what’s bringing in commuters.
“I really believe they’re misinterpreting part of this data,” Claudet said. “I don’t think land loss has anything to do with people commuting into Terrebonne Parish.”
He said his parish cannot supply enough skilled workers. One indication, he said, is that Terrebonne Parish is struggling to keep up with housing needs, with very few apartment or hotel vacancies and a rapid sale of homes whenever a new subdivision is built.
“We just need the housing,” he said. “Right now, that’s a major focus.”
Claudet said he owns hundreds of apartments, but there was only one vacancy as of his last report. Hotels also fill up during the work week, prompting the current construction of three or four new hotels in the parish, he said.
There has been a migration of people from the southern parts of the parish toward the north and that some smaller communities have lost families over the years, he said. However, he said, that has stabilized because of an aggressive elevation program that has helped mitigate some of the danger of living in flood-prone areas.
The Plaquemines Parish section was accurate, said Parish President Billy Nungesser.
He said the daily influx of about 28,000 workers has helped Plaquemines convince the federal government to agree to a number of protection projects, like federal levees, even though the parish’s permanent population is only about 23,000.
That incentive for federal help is likely to continue to grow if Venice becomes the hub for oil and gas production in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Industrial development along the river and expanding oil and gas activities will give currently vulnerable areas in the southern part of the parish a better shot at gaining federal protection, Nungesser said.