It is a simple fact and a wearisome truth. I repeat it with a sigh and tired eyes and a thick heart.
In New Orleans, everything is complicated.
Every. Blessed. Thing.
And when I mean every blessed thing, believe me, dear reader, that I mean every blessed thing. When Google maps lies, when stores don’t exist, when left turns are myths and it takes four and half hours for three competent and assiduous young women to find a simple bottle of Mr. Bubbles bubble bath, you notice something is awry and that something is a little off.
And while I won’t sit here and bemoan the fact that it took me an uncomfortably long time to procure the aforementioned bathtub necessity, I will sit here and bemoan the fact that these sorts of difficulties aren’t confined to the humorous; they extend to the serious.
Like why we can’t rebuild the Lower Ninth. Like why we can’t pay John Taylor. Like why we can’t save our wetlands.
And speaking with Tulane lawyer Mark Davis, the Director of the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy cemented this fact.
We went to Tulane to meet Mark Davis on Monday, June 13th, and the first thing I noticed about him was that his voice was tinted with the quintessential gallows humor that colors the smiles and expressions of many people here in New Orleans. He knew that nothing in New Orleans is easy. Mr. Davis’ wry smile had been through the ropes and maneuvered the hurdles and seen the mess on the ground many times before, but the visible passion for his work brought a certain levity to his words. Because of this, his presentation was extremely intriguing. Mr. Davis painted for us the legal landscape of wetland restoration and the land tenure and water issues that dominate that picture.
Perhaps the best way to approach the information and questions that he presented us with is to use an analogy. Think of your shower, dear reader. Do you see the shower head, the melty bar of soap, the hardened froth on the ledge? Good.
Now look to the drain. The legal landscape is very similar to the clump of hair (which everyone pretends not to see to avoid touching it) which is chilling on the top of that drain, preventing water from going down. Analogously, land and water rights clog up the process of restoring the wetlands. One can have the greatest plan in the world to restore the wetlands of Louisiana, but if the land and water rights aren’t sifted through, that plan is going to sit until it rots and loses its teeth. One may not know who owns a certain parcel of land, or there might be no title. The land could be divided between thirty relatives whose consents must all be sought and granted in order for a transaction to happen. Sometimes, the owner won’t sell. Sometimes, the owner doesn’t know he or she owns the land. What happens when it floods? Are the waters navigable enough to cede the land to the state? What about the streets plotted out in Bayou Bienvenue? Must the permission of the owners of these elusive plots be sought before any restoration work is done?
Mr. Davis described this issue in much more eloquent terms without the help this rather crude image, but the conclusions are the same. The legal landscape is messy. It’s hard. It’s so dang complicated. And while I personally find the legal minutiae invigorating and intriguing, it is also disheartening and exhausting. As an environmental lawyer, I feel one must learn to accept a large percentage of hardships and failure in his or her professional work; a certain level of complication. And although Mr. Davis has not turned me away from my interest in pursuing environmental law, he definitely gave me a new perspective. There is urgency to solving this complication that I am attracted to; the important wetlands of Louisiana’s coast are disappearing at an alarming rate.
But with this, dear reader, the clump of hair grows bigger. The shower floods.
And if nothing can be done, the next time a hurricane hits, Louisiana will too.