"I can't let him go. I can't. There must be some way to bring him back. Oh I can't think about this now! I'll go crazy if I do! I'll think about it tomorrow. But I must think about it. I must think about it. What is there to do? What is there that matters?... Tara!... Home. I'll go home, and I'll think of some way to get him back! After all, tomorrow is another day!"
That's Scarlett O'Hara's final soliloquy from Gone With the Wind, and like most cynics, I interpret it as her pledge to go into real estate. Rhett Butler has just walked out of her life, not giving a damn, and here is Scarlett laying down what really matters: her property.
What matters in Scarlett O'Hara's Georgia also holds true for coastal landowners in Louisiana, it seems. A few months back, I was taking pictures in the Lake Catherine area, when a man driving by on the highway saw me, came to a screeching halt, fired the engine in reverse, pulling right up next to me on the shoulder. The conversation went something like this:
"What are you doing here?"
"I know somebody who owns this land here, and people have been comin' out here
"I know. I used to live here too."
"Yeah, well when you own land out here and somebody else is on it...(brief
pause)...ya see, me and him was like brothers!"
"No, you see, me and him was like brothers!!"
"I didn't come here to steal anything. I like this island as much as you."
"I might call the police out here; they'll get ya for trespassing."
Glancing at the rear of his truck, and having nothing to hide, I answered by quoting his bumper-sticker hero: "Bring 'em on," I said. He sped away. This man was really offended that someone other than the owner was standing on land that belonged to his friend. What mattered most to him was Tara; it didn't matter that I wasn't a thief -- just standing on the property was enough of an offense. I left the area, and did not get pinched for trespassing.
Owning land means a lot to coastal residents, no doubt about it. There seems to be something in owning land that gives people a sense of belonging and individuality; something to have that no one can take away (even when the Communists take over America).
So along comes this little ditty in the April 29th edition of the New Orleans Times-Picayune:
"Publicly financed projects to prevent southeast Louisiana from being swallowed by the Gulf often are slowed to a crawl and in some cases stopped in deference to the property rights of the very landowners the projects are designed to protect, state officials said. And if Louisiana ends up losing its battle against the Gulf --forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents -- respect for the property
rights of a few could well be a major contributing factor."
Translation: People are so worried about their property rights on the Louisiana coast they are stalling efforts to protect or restore them. Read on:
"Because almost every acre of coastal wetlands is privately owned, even a project designed to rebuild land in open water typically must first cross the properties of several different owners before piped or free-flowing sediment reaches its objective. And resistance can be intense, notwithstanding the state's willingness to pay for easements for the duration of the project, which can be 25 years or longer.
"The issue of the state "taking" private property to rebuild the coast exploded onto the public's radar in 2002 when judges in Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes awarded local oyster fishers more than $1 billion in damages the harvesters claimed had been caused by the Caernarvon Freshwater Diversion Project --originally built to improve oyster grounds and strengthen wetlands against erosion. The award was eventually overturned by the state Supreme Court, but it had the effect of freezing progress for two years, state and federal officials said.
"Most property owners readily cooperate, with some even donating valuable easement rights, Hoffpuir said. But others react in unpredictable ways that can stall projects. Many property owners support projects, but have a fear of signing the required legal documents. Other agreements can fall apart on personal quirks.
"I have gone to meet with a willing landowner, but when he saw the federal partner on the project was the Environmental Protection Agency, everything changed," she said. "He escorted me to the door and told me never to let my shadow darken their property again."
That's an example of one person stalling wetlands restoration simply because they had a personal bias against the Environmental Protection Agency, which was trying to save his land. Does that make any sense? Oh, that evil tree-hugging EPA...I'll be damned if they restore my wetlands!
It seems that certain coastal landowners are attaching their personal beliefs to their land, which I suppose is their right, but in this case they're shooting themselves in the foot -- if they don't take the restoration option, the cards are stacked against them. The rules of the wetlands loss game dictate that water and mineral rights of land lost to erosion go to the state, as well as any rebuilt land; mineral rights on restored land will be split 50/50 between original landowner and the state. Isn't the wiser option to allow restoration projects to be executed instead of being a panty-waste about the EPA?
"It's not unusual for one piece of property to have several owners, and we have to get each of them to agree," (...) "One project crossed 57 different tracts of land and we had to get easements from 300 people. And if just one of those 300 doesn't want to sign on, it can bring the project to a stop."
That's a lot of red tape. One person can bring a project meant to restore the coast
to a halt. Meanwhile, more land is lost in the interim.
"There is a long tradition of governments expropriating private property if the owners are deemed to be blocking projects critical to the public welfare. And nearly every politician in the state -- including Gov. Blanco -- says the threat to southeastern Louisiana is an emergency. But Louisiana's governors and
Legislature have been loathe to cross that line, partly due to a belief in the sanctity of property rights, but also because experience has shown cooperation is usually quicker than the legal process of expropriation, officials said."
It's clearly time to put the "sanctity" of property rights on the back-burner for a while, and allow the coast to be restored. This is a state emergency. It doesn't matter if you and him was brothers. How about a nice across-the-board tax break for coastal landowners to allow restoration projects to be built? The solution will have to cut the red tape and make it simple; a "one-step" solution, and it must be fashioned quickly. The money has arrived, and it's time to start pumping silt. If coastal landowners continue to put their personal biases above the urgency of coastal restoration, they'll soon have no land left to keep trespassers away from.