Port Fourchon sits on the very edge of the country, all the better for vessels shuttling supplies to and from deepwater oil platforms across miles and miles of ocean. The port services 90 percent of all deepwater activity in the Gulf of Mexico. Up to 1,200 trucks a day travel in and out of Port Fourchon by way of the LA-1, carrying supplies and materials for rigs and platforms in the Gulf.
“This is where our energy is, and that’s our future,” says Chett Chiasson, director of Port Fourchon, patrolling the harbor from the bow of a speedboat. “If we can plan ahead, this can still be the premier oil and gas service base for this country. We just have to plan accordingly.”
Chiasson points out a tidal gauge secured to the edge of a dock. “The only thing we can do at this point is monitor the actual sea level rise,” he says. “We’re still in that process of gauging, from year to year, what’s going to happen and how we’re going to respond in the future.”
Keeping Port Fourchon open is a big deal—it services 90 percent of all deepwater activity in the Gulf of Mexico. In this video, Port Director Chett Chiasson tours the harbor while discussing the importance of preparedness, adaptation, and resilience. Video (1 min, 56 sec) by NOAA Climate.gov team.
It’s hard to think about the future on this particular day. The sun is shining in a clear, cloudless sky, and dolphins chase huge shipping vessels as they slowly make their way into the Gulf. “It’s a good time to be here today,” says Chiasson. “But on the bad days, it can be really bad.”
Sergeant Mitch Hohensee, the guy behind the wheel of our speedboat, recalls a particularly bad day in his recent memory. During Hurricane Ike in 2008, Hohensee had to ride out the storm for several days in the Port’s police operations center, surrounded by water six feet deep.
“We were trying to guide some of the trucks down the LA-1,” Hohensee recalls. “We actually had officers walking on each side of the road with sticks, trying to find where the edge of the road was. We made it pretty much up to Leeville and that’s where we had to turn around and head back to the Ops Center. We lost a few vehicles in the end.”
This photo was taken on September 11, 2008, as Hurricane Ike was passing 150 miles offshore of Port Fourchon and heading west toward Texas. Even so far offshore, it was pushing a huge surge inland, obstructing the path of utility trucks traveling back from the port via the old LA-1 highway. This vulnerable section would soon be replaced by the elevated highway, which was not yet completed at the time of the photo. Photo provided by the Greater Lafourche Port Commission.
Ted Falgout, the former director of Port Fourchon, experienced dangerous conditions on the LA-1 many times throughout his career and recognized early on that the roadway was a major obstacle to developing the local economy.
Today, he is enjoying his retirement from the deck of his houseboat, affectionately named the “Gator Nest,” a reference to his family’s alligator farm. “The Gator Nest, as we like to call it, was part of my adaptation to sea level rise,” he chuckles. Falgout still remains active in efforts to improve the LA-1. In the 1990s, he helped form the LA-1 Coalition—a grassroots organization that sought to secure funds to improve and elevate the entire nineteen miles of the roadway. A lot of the work involved educating not only the surrounding community, but also policy leaders at the state and federal level about why it was so important to raise the vulnerable highway.
“What we told people was that the highway was built for my grandparents to go visit each other on Sunday afternoons, never to carry the burden of development in the Gulf of Mexico,” Falgout says. “Once that became clear, all the people who had stake in seeing the highway improve, especially with the growth coming to the region, joined up the cause.”
Within a few years, the Coalition secured enough private and government funds to raise the seven miles of the highway closest to the Gulf. The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development was given the task of determining how high to raise the highway so that it lasted 75-100 years into the future.
David Miller of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development talks about how climate data helped engineers figure out how high to raise several miles of the Louisiana-1 highway. Video (1 min, 42 sec) by NOAA Climate.gov team.
Their engineers ultimately elevated the highway 17 feet in accordance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s construction requirements in that area. The road lies another five feet above the road’s pillars; at 22 feet above the water, it’s above the height zone of a 100-year storm surge.
Today, the LA-1 Coalition has set its sight on finding funds to raise the remaining eight miles. That section of the road, spanning from the flood protection system in Golden Meadow to Leeville, remains directly level with the bayou and is becoming increasingly inundated every year. The road is so low that even small storm events cause it to become flooded and impassable.
Much of the work involved in finding funds to raise the rest of the highway lies on the shoulders of Henri Boulet, executive director of the LA-1 Coalition. From his perspective, the information that NOAA provides the community on subsidence, sea level rise, and other coastal impacts is a vitally important for demonstrating and communicating just how urgent the situation is.
Luckily for him, the twin issues of sea level rise and subsidence—the main contributors to the region’s sinking landscape—are Osborn’s bread and butter.