Name: Donald Bogen, Jr.
Organization: Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing (BISCO)
Hometown: Thibodaux, Louisiana
Louisiana’s loses a football field of coastal wetlands every hour. Everyday, those who live in our parishes on the coast are visibly confronted with the knowledge that sea level rise, coastal erosion, and intensified storms threaten their homes and their way of life.
In the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan, our state has proposed “nonstructural” options for responding to these threats, including resources for voluntary buyouts from their homes and assistance with floodproofing and elevation. According to the state of Louisiana, if an area would flood more than 14 feet during a 100 year storm event, that area is deemed an unsafe and not resilient community. The state calls these areas “Resettlement Zones.” To ensure that communities are prepared for the future and understand where predicted Resettlement Zones will be, Gulf Restoration Network (GRN) has created a series of maps.
The transcription below is from an interview with Donald Bogen, Jr., an organizer with Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing (BISCO), in which he shares his thoughts on the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan:
“I think the state Master Plan is a complicated one. We had a meeting with CPRA [Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority] yesterday, and what people don’t realize is that not only is there a monetary component to this situation, there’s a political component to it. And so what might be best as an organizer--you know, I try to educate our leaders on what we perceive is coming down the pipeline. Decisions you might have to make. And those that live farther south than us might have to make.
So when the state said ‘we’re working with local municipalities--past [parish] presidents, mayors, past councils--and we’re asking their input for their project,’ if I am a mayor or a past president, I want a levee, I want some type of berm, some type of protection. Even though the state projections is--if the master plan is fully implemented, some of our neighbors to the south would still be impacted adversely. When they first start off they were looking at a net loss of land. And now they're realizing that hey, that’s not gonna happen, no matter what we do we’re gonna lose land. There’s gonna be relocations no matter what.
A parish’s responsibility is to keep a tax base, right? [Let’s say] I’m a politician, [if] I want to stay in power, I need people to live in the parish, I need that tax base. So, I’m gonna advocate for projects, for levees and all of that. So when the state scores those projects, or prioritizes different projects, they’re like, ‘Eh, I don’t think we want to put any in the area of Lafitte. I don’t think we want to put a ring levee around there. That might not be--because they do cost benefit analysis--that might not be well worth our money if we put that there and X amount of people are impacted by it, it doesn’t justify the money. Or if we put it there and they’re gonna have adverse effects because of the size of land and rising sea levels, it don’t make sense.’ But, if you only hear it from the parish, the parish is gonna say: ‘Put that levee there. Whatever you want we’ll put it in the plan’ But it’s not helping you as an individual. The individual might need nonstructural dollars [for] raising their house with this nonstructural money. Give me some relocation money. I might not have to relocate completely out of the parish--maybe farther north in the parish, right? So, it is the position at BISCO that we need to really take a look at the relationship between the people and the state. The way that business normally goes is that the state goes to the local municipalities and the people communicate with the local municipalities. But that’s a conflict of interest there. What’s best for the parish might not be best for me.”
During this interview Bogen also commented on some of the complex issues faced by the most vulnerable and marginalized people in Lafourche Parish, primarily communities of color, that are not being prioritized in the state of Louisiana’s nonstructural plans:
“Without a plan--we hear that word a lot in meetings: plan, plan, plan right? And we meet to plan and we plan to meet. So our problem now in Terrebonne Parish [is that] one of the highest points of land is what they call Johnson Ridge. Johnson Ridge is a predominantly African-American, low-income community. It’s about what--two streets? And that’s some of the highest land in Terrebonne Parish. So, when you’re running out of land, and you have underserved people, and when land becomes a valuable commodity, who’s gonna be adversely impacted?
One of the things is that--two things--I find people self relocate A), when a storm comes and they can’t afford to rebuild, so they forced [to] relocate, they self-relocate. Or B), they have a mortgage, their homeowner’s insurance is in escrow in their mortgage, their flood insurance is in escrow in their mortgage, their insurance goes up, they can’t afford it. They force relocate.
What happens when you have--it’s an older African-American community, a lot of people are second, third generation so they living in Big Mama’s house, right? What happens when someone goes there and Big Mama’s house is not in the best of conditions, and [someone from the state] offers you $50,000? You’re gonna jump on it because you’re not educated enough about the situation. And the gentrification begins to happen because you take that $50,000, you sign those papers, and you go get a double wide trailer somewhere in a lower lying part of the community. So you done vacated what was the highest land in the parish to go get a modern day home. You thought you was doing yourself good because you didn’t realize the gravity of the situation. But now you put yourself at risk, and so now you’re looking to get elevated or relocated, but you already decided you’re gonna stay, they already bought you out. And so what happens is, [on] that property that was sold for $50,000, now you might have a million dollar home right there.
Down the bayou, those individuals man...after [Hurricanes] Rita and Katrina, they had the Road Home fiasco and a lot of people were bought out, a lot of people couldn’t rebuild. You go down there now, you see million dollar camps. Million dollar camps! And so when I asked the question, I said: ‘Man, y’all don’t think there’s gentrification, y’all don’t think that this wasn’t right?’ And I’m always told: ‘Well, those people who’re putting those camps there, they have the money to self-insure. They made the investment.’ And so, it goes back to politics, it goes back to money, it goes back to policy, right? Because there’s an element in our society that generally believes in quote unquote ‘free market.’ Free market only works if you have the means to participate in it. So if you don’t have money or capital to participate in free market, then it’s not really free market. It’s--what my dad always told me--a good ol’ boy system.”
This blog is part of a series amplifying voices from communities in coastal Louisiana. Like many other residents in southern Louisiana, Donald Bogen, Jr. has a deep attachment to the place that he calls home. The state of Louisiana must work closely with communities as it begins to implement the nonstructural portion of the Coastal Master Plan. It must find the best methods to protect them while taking into account their concerns and priorities.
In collaboration with local, regional and national organizations, GRN submitted comments to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority on the 2017 Coastal Master Plan with suggestions on how to improve the nonstructural aspect of the plan so that it prioritizes the communities most at risk. GRN will continue to work with coastal residents as well as our community and conservation partners to share knowledge about the coastal crisis and advocate to make sure the state provides coastal communities with the information, tools and resources that they need to survive.