St. Charles Parish vanishes from U.S. map

Aaron Ertel: Community is built on silt and goo and doesn't even show up as coast line

Amy Brezinsky
September 27, 2006 at 11:37 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

By the way, did you know that we're not on the continent?

St. Charles Parish Emergency Operations Center Coordinator Aaron Ertel dropped that bombshell while speaking to the St. Charles Parish Women's Club at their last meeting.

The fact that our community isn't part of the solid and stable land mass that makes up the continental U.S., but is built on silt and goo instead, is why we need special assistance from FEMA before our parish vanishes into the Gulf of Mexico like a modern-day Atlantis.

The revelation that our community is, geographically speaking, "an ultra low-lying land unto itself" came as a shock to new club member Becky Jones, who just moved here from 10,000-foot-high Loveland, Colo.

Alarm flashed in Jones' eyes as Ertel displayed a map showing a coastline of the U.S. that didn't include St. Charles Parish.

"She's new to the Parish," explained several women in unison.

"Welcome," said Ertel.

"He was so light-hearted and quick-witted he made you laugh," said Leslie Cooper of Ertels' otherwise serious presentation.

Serious he should have been. Sobering measurements made in 2005 that showed many parts of the parish have sunk 1½ feet - 18 full inches - in the last 20 years, much faster than anyone ever predicted.

Not even the best scientific minds on earth can agree on a reason why.

There are four theories that even the experts are arguing about:

1. The removal of huge oil deposits below Coastal Louisiana "pulled the rug out from under us," leaving the parish without a foundation and nowhere to go but down.

2. An otherwise inconsequential earthquake near Gonzalez cracked the earth's crust and altered our topography, "tipping the Parish over" into the Gulf of Mexico, causing, as one expert put it, our "soil to spill out like oatmeal from a tilted bowl."

3. The natural compacting of the delta soil deposits we are sitting on is to blame - as they settle, we sink.

4. We are not on the continental shelf, which means we lack the geographical stability of communities on solid and higher ground.

To make matters worse, when the land sinks, salt water rushes in and kills vegetation - causing our coastlines to erode.

Without the Mississippi River overflowing and depositing sediment in a natural rhythm as it did before the river levees were built, there is no chance of replenishing the lost land.

Should we worry?

"Oh yeah," said Ertel.

What are federal authorities doing right now for us to be protected?

"Nothin'," he quipped.

But the St. Charles Parish Emergency Operations Center is. Urtel says the agency and its staff are promoting their "continental-shelf theory" with FEMA and other federal agencies in the hope of getting them to see the light - and take steps necessary to protect the community and it's people.

And Becky Jones? Well she has decided to stay in Luling, sinking and all.

“I may leave for the hurricanes, but I think I’ll come back,” said Jones. Why? because, “ I like all the people. The people are fun.”

Questions? Comments? Theory of your own to share? Write now: Parish Is Sinking Feedback, P.O. Box 1199, Boutte, LA 70039 or email us at

View other articles written Amy Brezinsky

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