Chenier Plains, LA

Chenier Plains, LA

ABOUT THE CHENIER PLAINS

Chenier Plains is a region in the southwestern corner of Louisiana, which includes the parishes of Cameron, Calcasieu and Vermilion. The region is home to a unique geological feature called a “chenier” which is a sandy or shelly beach ridge. A “chenier plain” is a series of cheniers separated by intervening mud-flat deposits with marsh and swamp vegetation. These ridges were settled because of their higher elevations (1-6 meters), which provide natural protection from flooding. Cheniers also provide critical habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. The three parishes of the Chenier Plains team have a combined population of approximately 257,000 residents. Much of the land area is rural; the largest urban area is Lake Charles with a population of 72,000. The region is home to 10% of the U.S. national oil reserves. The primary goal of the Chenier Plains team is to make the case for planning, including long-range resilience planning, zoning and land use planning. Ultimately, the team is dedicated to taking regional and long-term actions to reduce losses and damage from storm incursions and flood events while protecting the cultural heritage and the unique ecosystem of their region.

RECENT ACCOMPLISHMENTS

  • The planning, administration and floodplain/coastal management zone staff in the three parishes are integrating resilience initiatives through a variety of mechanisms, ranging from comprehensive planning to permitting.
  • The three parishes hosted a Community Rating System (CRS) user group meeting to encourage jurisdictions to pursue CRS certification.
  • In 2010, the State of Louisiana created the Chenier Plain Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority. The Authority has enabled a regional, long-term focus on resilience.
  • Staff in the three parishes are planning to develop a stories archive (using both audio and video recordings) as a component of an overall resilience plan. This will communicate the cultural heritage and history that planning efforts are intended to protect.
  • The parishes partnered with local academic institutions to provide scientific data on observed and expected changes in local ecosystems due to land subsidence, storm surges and development pressures to inform their resilience plans.

KEY CHALLENGES

  • The parishes have experienced strong resistance to master planning and zoning as well as land use regulations.
  • Extensive natural gas investments in the region have caused rapid economic growth. There is a need to ensure that growth does not occur at the expense of resilience.
  • Resilience measures have not historically been coordinated across jurisdictions in the region.
  • Federal and state-level approval for projects such as fortifying and hardening infrastructure and ecosystem restoration has proved challenging.
  • The parishes have limited staff capacity to respond to the needs of widely distributed rural communities.