FFL’s 2nd Core Committee meeting helps Plaquemines Parish leaders plan for engagement on coastal challenges

Lousiana’s

This 2nd Core Committee Meeting was sponsored by Foundation for Louisiana through its Coastal Resiliency Leverage Fund and continued the work that began with an initial gathering that called for community leaders to participate. The latest meeting was held at the Belle Chasse Auditorium and was facilitated by members of a multi-group Support Team that includes the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy, Gulf Restoration Network, Concordia, and FFL among others. Leaders included respected neighbors, a few elected officials, business people as well as community advocates.

Nearly 30 representatives from around Plaquemines Parish gathered Monday (June 6) for the second phase of a process to help residents better plan to engage their community about the issues of coastal erosion and protection along the Louisiana Gulf.

This 2nd Core Committee meeting was sponsored by Foundation for Louisiana through its Coastal Resiliency Leverage Fund and continued the work that began with an initial gathering that called for community leaders to participate. The latest meeting was held at the Belle Chasse Auditorium and was facilitated by members of a multi-group Support Team that includes the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy, Gulf Restoration Network, Concordia, and FFL among others. Leaders included respected neighbors, a few elected officials, business people as well as community advocates.

Liz Williams, FFL’s Coastal Communities Resiliency Program Officer, represented the foundation and helped facilitate one of three interactive roundtable discussions about the history, challenges, issues, priorities and opportunities that have sprung from the erosion of and efforts to protect Louisiana’s coastline.

(Learn more: See more photos from the meeting at our Facebook page here.)

“We wanted to bring respected community leaders from around the parish into a space where they could work together to inform what a parish-wide outreach and planning process would look like,” said Williams, adding that FFL hopes to take this work and develop this full-scale planning process in the fall. There’s also the hope to use the process in Plaquemines Parish as a pilot for larger outreach efforts in other coastal parishes across the state, she said.

“This process is designed to give residents around coastal communities an opportunity to be a part of the planning process – to bring their ideas to the table with their neighbors, family, friends, and colleagues.”

Groups of five or six people would rotate through each of the three roundtable discussions, which featured information graphics covering a range of issues, overviews and opportunities. For example, Richie Blink of the National Wildlife Federation’s Restore the Mississippi Delta initiative provided a history of coast’s rapid erosion, explained the current status, and then engaged participants to brainstorm on how to deal with such an uncertain future.

(Learn more: Read about FFL’s Coastal Resiliency Leverage Fund here.)

In another part of the room, FFL Board Chair Pam Jenkins facilitated a discussion on how residents on which issues affected them both individually and as a community and how they’d need to prioritize addressing those challenges over varying time frames.

On a nearby wall, Concordia’s Connor McManus worked with Williams in providing an overview of storm surge, including future projections, and how flood insurance rates will evolve over time.

It was, at times, a daunting ask, as leaders expressed frustration on a number of problems that have arisen in previous planning efforts, where they have felt uninformed or shut out of previous processes. Often, the decisions seem as though they have already been made long before input is sought at community level. There was a clear desire for more than just talk, but also tangible action.

“There is planning fatigue,” Williams noted. “A lot of community leaders have been through planning processes before, and they haven’t seen anything come of it.”

What sets this process apart from the others, Williams explained, is the emphasis — in keeping with FFL’s mission — on recognizing the literal and figurative value of those voices in the room.

At the first meeting, participants were offered the option of accepting a stipend to compensate them for their time and participation or to waive the stipend and instead have the money donated back into the planning process.

Also at the first meeting, Williams continued, participants were asked to commit to four basic duties:

  • Attend the core meetings
  • Share the information they gather, and answer questions from fellow residents
  • Provide feedback on process itself
  • Forward any questions they receive to members of the support team.

To further underscore the value behind their contribution, childcare and transportation was made available to Core Committee members as needed, while local eats were also provided at these dinnertime gatherings.

The next steps for this process include the design of programming and timeline for the parish-wide engagement and planning process. Those guidelines will be finalized based on the information collected at the last two Core Committee meetings. A regional communications strategy will be outlined and launched to reach as many residents across the parish and within the region as possible. We also will be outlining a number of capacity-building and support grants to promote increased presence of local organizations within the planning process.

This engagement planning process was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, in partnership with the RESTORE the Mississippi River Delta Coalition.