Wednesday, March 11, 2009


That's what they call this area - Cenla, as in "Central Louisiana." I'm here in Cenla, Jena to be specific, kicking off the excavation of 10,000 tons of contaminated soil from a former creosote wood-treating site.

It's one of the larger projects I've managed. We have a crew of five working on the excavation, as well as a field trailer, and various yellow-metal equipment. Continuous-recording air-quality monitors. Silt fences and sedimentation control. Surveyors, geotechnical technicians and laboratory analysts. And one very busy, 50-something, Zen Buddhist trying to play ringleader over this circus.

But all this effort may be in vain because Louisiana's apparently sinking. The Economist reports that the state is subsiding, rather rapidly by geological standards. Southeastern Louisiana may sink up to six feet over the next century and New Orleans and its suburbs will become thin strips of lowland walled off by levees and surrounded by open water on three sides, much more vulnerable than they were when Katrina struck.

Land subsidence in the Mississippi delta is largely caused by human interference. When the river was allowed to flood over its banks every year, the silt that settled out of the floodwater creating more and higher land nearby. This is why the highest ground in New Orleans is along the riverfront, one of the only areas of town not to flood after Hurricane Katrina.

However, levees have changed that. Until Katrina, the Mississippi had not flooded in or around the city in almost 80 years. During that period, wetlands in the region were drained for development. As the water was drained, the ground sank, and without the once-annual dose of Mississippi silt, the subsidence continues.

Cenla is up and off off the Mississippi Delta, but not by much. Although it may not sink, it is vulnerable to threats from sea-level rise, increased frequency and intensity of hurricanes, and other effects of global warming. However, a recent Gallup Poll shows that 41% of Americans believe the seriousness of global warming is exaggerated in the news, the highest level of public skepticism about global warming seen in more than a decade. As recently as 2006, a significant majority of Americans thought the news underestimated the seriousness of global warming. Now, according to Gallup's 2009 Environment survey, more Americans say the problem is exaggerated rather than underestimated, 41% vs. 28%. The increased skepticism is seen mainly among Republicans and independents, and those over the age of 30. In other words, the people who live here in Cenla.

Not that the people here aren't among the nicest I've met. Everyone in Jena has been incredibly helpful and kind to us, and our project here has been much the better for it. Even the cop who pulled me over for speeding coming the job site yesterday was nice enough to let me go without a ticket and only a gentle warning, even though he clocked me going 71 in a 55 mph zone. However, I think he mainly let me go because he found out that I wasn't a Texan - a large part of my gentle warning was about how fast Texans apparently drive through his parish.

The weather was even kind enough to cool off from the humid mid-80s earlier in the week to the low 50s of today and forecast for the rest of this week. It's downright chilly, the last thing I expected in Cenla. I'm glad I packed a jacket for the trip.

1 comment:

Myles Parker said...

Great project worked by you. Finally you have done with Louisiana economic development .