Ella Armstrong has battled flood water that's poured into her New Roads home more times than she can count. She and her neighbors in Pecan Acres, a quaint community in Pointe Coupee Parish, have had to contend with the neighborhood flooding 17 times in the past two decades, a frequency that's earned it a nickname among residents: Flood City.
"I worry every time it rains," Armstrong said. "I just sit and pray."
Plans to move some 40 families out of the flood-prone area to higher ground appear to be coming to fruition following years of relocation efforts that were bogged down by bureaucracy and other setbacks. This week, the Louisiana Office of Community Development laid out plans to buy a 22.5-acre plot of land less than 2 miles north of the neighborhood and set a timetable for people to relocate in 2021.
The estimated $10 million to $12 million resettlement will come through a state grant and allows a buyout of residents' homes so they can either move to the newly constructed neighborhood or elsewhere. Officials plan to complete the land sale by year's end.
"The city of New Roads will be right here, every step of the way when it comes to this project," New Roads Mayor Cornell Dukes told about 150 residents gathered at the city's civic center Wednesday evening. "Change has come to Pointe Coupee."
During the event, residents got a glimpse into what their new community might look like. Renderings of the homes' style, a blueprint of the street showing a tree-filled boulevard and a walking trail around a rain pond, were on display for residents to offer feedback.
They also wrote their ideas for what to call their new community on multi-colored sticky notes. Among the concepts were iterations of Pecan Acres, "Magnolia Estates" and "No More Flooding."
Pecan Acres is inhabited primarily by low-income black and elderly residents and was built in an area that used to be a parish dumpsite and, before that, a wetland. Many in the neighborhood say they can't afford flood insurance, which homeowners in flood-prone areas need in order to get federal grants.
“They’re eager to have a new reality that doesn’t involve being scared every time it rains,” said Community Development Executive Director Pat Forbes.
Residents are also able to get financial help for temporary rental housing while the project is being finished as part of the relocation package. After they move out, parish officials plan to restore Pecan Acres to its original form, which they say will take on excess water.
Like thousands of other families in the Baton Rouge region, Pecan Acres sustained significant flooding the summer of 2016. But in a way, the flood pushed forward residents' concerns and cleared a financial path to help them get out through state grants created since the widespread flood.
Lisha Gremillion has seen her home flood at least a dozen times since she was a child. When it rains hard, she calls on young men in the neighborhood to help her move her furniture upstairs, a precaution she takes since the 2016 floods.
"We lost everything," said Gremillion, a 58-year-old Pecan Acres resident who has lived there since 1971.
Forbes anticipates the majority of residents will move to the new neighborhood, a point the department and residents have pushed to keep the community intact.
Though it means uprooting from her childhood home, Gremillion said, the move is worth not having to dread the next rainstorm.
"It's going to help," she said. "We've been through a lot."