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Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards speaks at press conference on the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority restored beach on Elmer's Island in Grand Isle, La. Tuesday, March 21, 2017. The project is the largest single coastal ecosystem restoration in CPRA history, including a 13-mile restoration of the Caminada Headland from the mouth of Bayou Lafourche to Caminada Pass.

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON

During the War of 1812, the British burned Washington, D.C., and tried, unsuccessfully, to take New Orleans. The war was a wake-up call for the young nation. Its coastal communities, from Portland, Maine to Mobile, Alabama, were extremely vulnerable to attack. The federal government quickly appropriated funds to defend the coast. Over the next 50 years, it built 42 forts, four of which were in Louisiana: Fort Pike, Fort Macomb, Fort Jackson and Fort Livingston. (Fort St. Philip had already been built by the Spanish.)

By the early 20th century, many of these forts had become obsolete. Most were eventually decommissioned or abandoned.

Today, Louisiana’s coastal forts look like Mayan ruins. Battered by hurricanes and neglect, the brick and mortar structures are slowly sinking into the Gulf. They are losing a battle against natural and man-made enemies: subsidence, erosion and climate change.

They are not alone. Isle de Jean Charles in the ill-named Terrebonne Parish is losing that battle as well. The town’s residents will soon become the first “climate refugees” in the United States, a dubious distinction to say the least.

As with the sacking of D.C., the loss of Isle de Jean Charles should be a wake-up call to the federal government (and the world). Like Andrew Jackson on the Île d'Orléans in 1815, we need to rally the troops and defend the coast!

Folwell Dunbar

educator

New Orleans