Jan 15 2010

Message From New Orleans – Part 1

Published by at 1:43 pm under AALS,Sustainable Development

Message From New Orleans – Part 1

The Association of American Law Schools held its annual meeting in New Orleans from January 6 to 10, 2010, the first time AALS returned to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina struck in August of 2005.  On January 7, I attended the Joint Program of the Sections on Environmental Law and Natural Resources Law, which was an all-day field trip, focused on both the natural and man-made infrastructure of the city and surrounding area.


The first stop was across the Mississippi River, south of the city, at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, specifically the Barataria Preserve area, where we received a guided tour of the Bayou Coquille area from a park ranger.  Although it was winter – and Louisiana was in the midst of a cold snap – the natural life of the area had a strong presence.  Live oaks (evergreen) and other hardwood trees proliferated, as well as dwarf palmettos and the bog cypress trees that send up “knees” from their roots and give the swamps their characteristic look.  In the trees, Spanish moss was everywhere.  The alligators were keeping warm some distance from the walkways, we were told, so we had no sightings.  But we did see egrets, birds of prey, and a decent size snake.  The waterways had plant life growing on the surface, and it was not difficult to imagine the lushness of the area during the warmer weather, when the Louisiana air is hot and can be suffocatingly humid.

It is easy to see the delicate balance of nature in such an area, and how the swamplands and their adjacent marshlands provide a buffer from the Gulf of Mexico and its occasionally violent weather.  Also present and visible was the hand of human industry – the petroleum industry, in particular.  We saw firsthand the dependence of the area on the coastal wetlands for its protection from storms, for its economic prosperity, and for its very existence.

Our park ranger provided background information about the pirate Jean Lafitte, for whom the park is named.  A privateer, he conducted his smuggling operations in the Barataria Preserve area, which operations included the slave trade.  Some information on the mysterious background of Lafitte is available here (pdf).

Although the area is synergistically dependent upon the delicate balance of the wetlands, they are seriously endangered by erosion.  This was true even before the devastation of Katrina.  One account says that southern Louisiana is losing a football field length of wetlands every 30 minutes.

Part 2 will discuss the trip to the 9th Ward and sustainable residential development in the aftermath of Katrina.

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