NEW ORLEANS — The cities of
Springs filed a lawsuit against the state and its contractors —
similar to the one filed in March by Tangipahoa
Parish resident Levi Robertson — alleging that an Interstate
12 concrete barrier acted as a flood
wall and was to blame for historic
flooding in 2016.
But could these floods have affected
something more intangible? According to one local archaeologist, more
than people know.
The study of the Louisiana coastline and who settled here before
are lessons that can be applied to how floods and storms affect the
land, Brian Ostahowski, president and archaeologist at the Louisiana
Archaeology Society, said.
“(Studying) our ancestors better inform what we do here today
along the coast,” he told the Louisiana Record. “Part of
the issue with land loss is as hurricanes push water in, you have
less buffer for hurricanes and the land sort of goes away. The
lessons we’re learning here are basically ground zero for what’s
going to be happening on other coasts in the future, especially when
you have big hurricanes like Katrina and Sandy.”
A hydrologist recently said the I-12 barrier was a substantial
factor that caused the flooding. Robertson’s lawsuit claimed no
studies were done to figure out the effects of such a project.
Still, state officials said they were studying the ramifications
of public infrastructure in natural disasters. But human
intervention and environmental factors continue to threaten the
coastline and southern Louisiana.
In fact, Ostahowski said Louisiana is losing land faster than
anywhere else in the United States, “like a football field an
hour,” though the coastline has been subsiding for decades. Land
loss, climate change, and rising sea levels are among factors forcing
us to think differently about how we live with water, he said.
“At the turn of the century, 150,000 people lived in these
communities throughout the Gulf, but today none of them are here
anymore,” he said. “We know they lived out there because evidence
of these old settlements are all along the coast. We see artifacts
and parts of old structures that no longer exists because hurricanes
damaged them or land loss occurred.”
Environmental data can translate
scientific insights into knowledge that lawmakers and farmers can
use to help prepare for extreme weather events, but Louisiana’s
culture is slipping away.
“Louisiana is losing its rich and dynamic history,” Ostahowski
said. “Archaeology and physical evidence are sometimes the only
evidence of our past and the evidence of Louisiana history is sinking
away at a really, really fast rate. It’s faster than we can even
try to excavate or record.”
Ostahowski said it’s important to understand how Louisiana
communities were formed and why they went away. However, not many
records about the past were necessarily recorded for one reason or
another. He does not want history repeating itself and said that’s
how we can tie the past to the future — through preservation. But
few people are focusing on that right now.
For Ostahowski though, it’s not for a lack of trying but a lack
of money and opportunity.
“Unfortunately, in the next couple of decades we’re not going
to have any evidence of the history of our coastal populations left
except in a museum,” he said. “There’s not going to be any
physical evidence. I mean, everyone’s heard of ghost towns, but
there are whole towns that have just been wiped away and are out
there in the Gulf.”