Jean LaFitte Tomorrow – Town Resiliency Plan

How does a community proactively address risk in light of anticipated increased structural protection in the future?

Jean Lafitte is located along Bayou Barataria nearly 30 miles south of New Orleans very close to the open waters of brackish lakes and bays that connect to the Gulf of Mexico, making coastal flooding from high winds and storm surge a serious threat to the community. The communities of the Barataria Basin are not protected by a federal levee system. Wetlands provide nearly all the protection from storm surge, with only a few areas benefiting from short, disconnected lines of low levees. The state’s coastal master plan includes building a ring levee for the communities along Bayou Barataria, but it is not expected to be completed until 2032 and a source of funding for the project has not yet been identified. While a new ring levee will help reduce the frequency of flooding, it will not completely remove Jean Lafitte’s risk of flooding. Jean Lafitte must proactively reduce risk and increase its resilience under an environmentally and economically uncertain future.

Acknowledging the serious environmental threats of sea level rise, coastal erosion, and wetland loss, the Jean Lafitte Town Resiliency Plan will help Jean Lafitte and the neighboring unincorporated villages of Lafitte, Crown Point, and Barataria create a safer future. The plan includes urban design, land use, transportation, disaster management, economic development, and water management elements, including policy recommendations for community leaders. Additional community planning tools are strongly referenced in the Jean Lafitte Tomorrow plan, including the Best Practices Manual for Development in Coastal Louisiana and the Louisiana Land Use Toolkit. In addition, the plan is designed to be used in conjunction with the Louisiana Coastal Land Use Toolkit manuals for zoning, subdivision ordinances, and additional ordinances when developing new zoning code and/or Unified Development Code.

Resilience Planning in Action

The people of Jean Lafitte value the area’s rich history, lush natural environment, and casual working waterfront. The Jean Lafitte Tomorrow Plan defines resilience as having effective, flexible response strategies to prepare for an uncertain future while working toward future goals that build upon community values. The plan presents strategies to address the risks from sea level rise, storm events, and economic uncertainties, with the overall goal of improving the quality of life for Jean Lafitte residents. During the planning process, several themes were consistently identified by citizens as important principles to helping guide the town’s growth. The plan is framed around six principles of resilience: 1) assess opportunities and threats, 2) enhance local assets, 3) focus on the heart of town, 4) diversify mobility options, 5) build stronger and safer, and 6) live with water. The Jean Lafitte Plan further encourages proactive measures to find and adopt solutions to current challenges to increase resilience, without relying or depending on state and federal funds alone.

Environment

Jean Lafitte’s natural setting is a major attraction to locals and tourists alike. The Jean Lafitte Tomorrow Plan seeks to capitalize on its environmental assets provided by surrounding lush wetlands and Bayou Barataria. However, its elevation near sea level and proximity to the Gulf of Mexico also pose increasing environmental risks that must be addressed to secure the safety and vitality of Jean Lafitte’s future.

Proposed Actions:

  • Establish a policy for native plant usage wherever possible in required landscaping, re-plantings, and on public properties as land-generating systems to increase protection against wind and water erosion and storms.
  • Maintain ground water levels to hold water in place and drain only when needed using small strategically placed pumps to limit subsidence.
  • Preserve open spaces and bayou lands to protect and enhance the town’s existing rural, small-town character.
  • Establish a demonstration garden by City Hall or the Senior Center to show and educate the community about native plants and plantings that should be used in Jean Lafitte.

Infrastructure

Despite planned levee projects for the community, the Jean Lafitte plan acknowledges that deficient infrastructure is a major threat to the community’s resilience. The plan identifies several strategies to bring vital infrastructure up to contemporary standards and more in line with community goals, as well as funding sources to ensure the continued upkeep and safety of vital infrastructure.

Proposed Actions:

  • Invest in pedestrian-oriented infrastructure that supports and helps create safe, welcoming, and walkable streets, including upgrading existing infrastructure, expanding sidewalks, adding crosswalks, and ensuring new construction includes well- connected sidewalks.
  • Provide safe, convenient infrastructure for bicyclists to encourage bicycling as a form of personal transportation and for tourism.
  • Elevate critical infrastructure, including electrical sub-stations, pump stations, and other infrastructure hubs, above the base flood elevation.

Community

Jean Lafitte is a tight-knit community set in the middle of the wetlands with good schools, low taxes, and abundant recreational opportunities. The town and surrounding area boasts a rich culture with many assets in the seafood and fishing industries, historical architecture, and untamed natural beauty. The plan strongly reflects the goals and desires of its citizens, and it recognizes the importance of community cohesion in making these goals reality.

Proposed Actions:

  • Provide increased recreational opportunities for residents and visitors to enjoy the natural and historic qualities of Jean Lafitte and surrounding area.
  • Replace mobile homes with more storm-resilient structures, particularly in the lower Lafitte area.
  • Identify, protect, and encourage the preservation and rehabilitation of the town’s existing historic resources.
  • Protect businesses in the ‘working waterfront’ community to evaluate business needs and ensure new additions to the area are not in conflict with existing businesses.
  • Construct new facilities to house businesses that cater to visitors interested in fishing, bird watching, and airboat rides, such as lodging with shared cooking facilities.
  • Diversify housing options in the town center to accommodate residents and tourists, including boutique hotels, bed and breakfasts, fish camps, and housing that caters to older retirees.
  • Capitalize on the town’s waterfront access to encourage locals and visitors to enjoy waterfront views, walking, dining, and other amenities.

Next Steps

The Jean Lafitte Tomorrow plan includes a thorough list of funding sources to help the town implement the goals and priorities outlined in the plan. It also recognizes the importance of marketing the town’s strengths and assets to attract visitors and enhance the local economy. The plan identifies several priority actions to help the town achieve its resilience goals.

Proposed Actions:

  • Work with private interests to assess optimal sites for new residential and commercial development in the town center, consistent with the resiliency plan.
  • Explore alternative funding sources that promote public-private partnerships, such as revenue bonds, TIF, tax credits, EB-5, and lease revenues, to facilitate implementation of the plan.
  • Develop and implement Form-Based Standards to regulate development in the town center.
  • Expand small business ventures through partnerships with community colleges/universities and the private sector to promote job creation and business diversity.
  • Create a marketing campaign to increase tourists and other visitors.
  • Adopt model ordinances outlined in the Louisiana Land Use Toolkit as appropriate to help protect against flooding and other hazards, in conjunction with a form-based code.
  • Identify and periodically assess key indicators of economic health and overall livability based on community priorities.
  • Promote regional business development opportunities with other communities along the peninsula to create economic stability.