Grand Isle Checkpoint

Grand Isle set up a checkpoint at the city's La. 1 entrance on April 3, which restricts anyone from entering the island other than essential personnel and people with a Grand Isle address on their driver's license.

People who own property on Grand Isle may soon be able to enter the island again.

The town released a letter Monday stating that officials are "working on" renewing access to non-resident property owners, who were barred just over a week ago from entering Grand Isle due to concerns that a population boom could spark a coronavirus outbreak on the island and devastate its mostly elderly residents.

Local officials said a special town council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at noon, and figuring out if and how it will renew island access to non-resident property owners will be one of the main topics of discussion.

"It might be a while before our traditional tourists are allowed to come back in and rent motels and things like that," town attorney Chip Cahill said, "but we are trying to look at different ways where we can continue to control the population and give camp owners a little better access."

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Coronavirus has still yet to reach Grand Isle, local officials said, although Jefferson Parish has over 5,000 cases and 186 deaths as of Monday evening.

The town declared a state of emergency on April 2, and council members, who wanted to maintain Grand Isle's safety, agreed to enforce the first known checkpoint related to COVID-19 in Louisiana.

At first, the checkpoint on the La. Highway 1 entrance — the only road into and out of the island — was limited to residents, essential workers and property owners who brought along proof of ownership documents like utility or energy bills.

But, on April 3, the town tightened its checkpoint restrictions, limiting entrance only to essential workers and residents who have Grand Isle addresses listed on their driver's licenses. Property owners who already arrived were allowed to stay.

The blockade sparked controversy. Although local political leaders are permitted by Louisiana law to control "pedestrian and vehicular traffic" in "times of great public crisis," property owners felt Grand Isle had taken the interpretation too far.

"Bottom line is we would like to have access to our camp," said Joe Woll, a Luling resident who owns a three-bedroom camp and a boat in Grand Isle.

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Mayor David Camardelle neither responded to phone calls or email attempts for comment.

Grand Isle's population is 757 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with a median age of 53.3 — statistics that show most of the residents on the island are in the high-risk category with a virus that has been deadly among the elderly.

The town has no hospital, one ambulance, and, according to Chief of Police Laine Landry, nine police deputies. The arrival of the virus could overwhelm the Grand Isle's public resources, which are further limited because they cannot ask for relief from neighboring communities that are also maxed out due to the pandemic.

The checkpoint was set up in part because the town didn't want to get overwhelmed on Easter weekend — an annual holiday that last year brought in about 19,000 extra vehicles onto the island, Landry said.

Landry said he mans the checkpoint himself most days, sometimes standing there for an entire day, since the staff is already limited. Last week, he said, there was a scare that one of the lieutenants contracted coronavirus, and such a circumstance would have prompted him to force the majority of his officers into quarantine.

The lieutenant's test came back negative.

The curve of Louisiana's COVID-19 cases appears to be flattening. The predicted holiday rushes have passed. Now, Landry said, the town will soon make the decision whether that's enough to start lifting restrictions.

"Everybody is wanting to get back to normal as quick as possible," he said. "We're all desperately wanting it to open up. But foremost, we just want to protect our citizens from contracting this."

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Email Brooks Kubena at bkubena@theadvocate.com.