Name: Clarence Brocks
GRN Community Partner Organization: Zion Travelers Cooperative Center (ZTCC)
Hometown: Phoenix, Louisiana
Louisiana’s coast is disappearing at an unprecedented rate. People residing in our coastal parishes bear witness to these changes from the frontlines. Sea level rise, coastal erosion, and intensified storms threaten their homes and their way of life. In the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan, our state has proposed nonstructural options for responding to these threats, including resources for voluntary buyouts from their homes and assistance with floodproofing and elevation. According to the state of Louisiana, if an area would flood more than 14 feet during a 100 year storm event, that area is deemed an unsafe and not resilient community. The state calls these areas “Resettlement Zones.” To ensure that communities are prepared for the future and understand where predicted Resettlement Zones will be, Gulf Restoration Network (GRN) has created a series of maps.
The following interview transcription provides the perspective of Clarence Brocks, a resident of Phoenix, Louisiana in Plaquemine Parish, on the impacts of these plans on his community. Brocks was born and raised in Phoenix. He served in the U.S. Air Force Louisiana Air National Guard for 33 years. Before he retired from the military in 2007, Brocks rose through the ranks to Chief Master Sergeant and traveled around the world from France and Costa Rica to Japan and Iraq. Nevertheless, in his own words, “Every time I’m ready, come right back here [to Phoenix].”
How long have you lived in your house?
“The house I live in right now I’ve been living in it since 2007...no, 2009. Cause, I lost my original house in [Hurricane] Katrina. I lived in that house for 30 years and [when] Katrina came I lost that one. I was on active duty for about a year and a half for Katrina, so I was all over the state of Louisiana. I came back in this area and tried to rebuild with the National Guard. We got to a lot of the homes and people was mostly [in] shelters. We did a lot of security--at the Superdome we did security with the National Guard. And basically after that, I worked on my mom’s house--because my mom was in her upper...something like 78, 79, years old at the time, and she had to move like a lot of other people. A lot of elderly people, they felt like they lost everything they had, but they still had their health, and they had their children. So, I renovated my mom’s house, with help from from the organizations that came down from the churches from other states. They came down to help. They went so far and then I finished my mom’s house off and I did my mother-in-law. My mother-in-law had a mobile home. I got all that [done], did all the electrical and all the plumbing for that, and then in 2007, it was time for me to get my house, so I rebuilt my home. My home was destroyed. I wanted to repair it, but it had too much damage [done] to it, so I wound up tearing it down myself, no FEMA, nobody else. I tore my whole house down, and then I rebuilt my whole house. I did all my own electrical, all my own plumbing, did all the stucture, all by myself. And then some groups came from Virginia, some church groups, I think it was Second Baptist Church, and they came down and they helped me finish it off.”
Is your home elevated, and if so how high?
“No. It’s not elevated. They came in a couple of months ago and they wanted to give me the grant to elevate it, but I gotta go [up] 18 feet. And I figure like this: If the water come--if it don’t do like Katrina-- Katrina was a special beast. It was different from [any storm that came before]. I hope we never see something like that again because it did things that you still can’t explain. Things was here, and they put it there, and then it was there, and they put it here. It’s something you can’t explain because the water came from the south and pushed towards the river. And we still found stuff that should’ve been towards the river in the back. I figured out what it was--the water came, and when it went back, the house float back, and pass by where your house was. So, you’ll find stuff from your house in three different spots. And you’re trying to figure--how can it get that way. And that’s what it was--the water. We had 18 feet of water. So when the water went down, the house passed the spot it was [in before], and put it in a different area.
But the reason I didn’t want to get it elevated was--I talked to my wife--my house is right round 2000, 2200 square feet, and I don’t want to put it up there in the air, and it’s not gonna be good enough [protection]. We get wind all year round. We get water how many times [a year]?--and it’s cheaper to get flood insurance than to get homeowner’s insurance. So, we’d rather do the flood insurance, and stay down low and take our chances. But we get up there, and the wind come in the middle of the night, and we up in the house. So it could do more damage. If the water’s coming, we’re gonna get some warning, so we could get out of here. We go. And I also own a home in Monroe, so, I got a house for evacuation. When I was in the military, National Guard, I always had somewhere I could take my family on one of the bases. And now, since I’m out, I retired from the military, I wound up buying a house in Monroe, for a safe house. Somewhere to go for hurricane season. We had Hurricane Isaac, a couple years ago, I think like four or five years ago, and I went Monroe, I lived in my house in Monroe. But we got no damage from it from Hurricane Isaac. It was just the opposite. Katrina destroyed the south side of Plaquemines Parish, on the east bank, and the north side was pretty good. So a lot of people put a lot of stuff on that end. And that’s where we took all of our vehicles. The fire department, also. I’m a fire chief down there in Pointe La Hache, I’ve been with them since 1985, so I think that’s 32 years...32 years with the fire department. And we call our fire trucks and we put them up on the north side of the east bank. But this time [when] we did it for Isaac, the north side flooded, and the south side didn’t.”
Have you heard about the Coastal Master Plan? If so, what have you heard?
“I heard about it when the [Parish] President [Billy] Nungesser was elected into office, and he was talking about it--the restoration--he was talking about the Gulf [of Mexico]. And that’s the last I heard about it. I know millions of dollars came in here, for restoration. What happened to the money, or what’s been done, I don’t know, as far as anything else.”
What do you wish the state was doing to educate you on your flood risk?
“Yeah, I’m always willing to be educated. Especially on things that are gonna affect my livelihood. If I like to see them do more with the levees and stuff. Like I said, Katrina was a different beast than any other storm. It had like a 50 foot tidal wave coming across, coming at us from the Gulf. By the time it got to land it was like 30. So, if we’re about to get something like that [even] if we’re up 18 feet, it’s still gonna wash the house off the pilings. So I think they need to do more to stop the tidal surge when it’s coming in the Gulf [with] the restoration, they say they were gonna do it a long time ago. And that would make a big difference. Stop it out there in the Gulf. On this east bank they didn’t do anything to the levees--not a thing [since] Katrina--never touched our levees. [On] the west bank they put up the flood wall, and the flood wall is affecting our area, because [once] the water hit the flood wall and it’s coming back on this side. The north side on the east bank never got flooded before. And when they put the flood wall up, the water didn’t have anywhere to go and it was right on the north side of Phoenix. The water in Phoenix it was 18 feet high. Right at that hump. Y’all don’t know where the hump at, but I was on the levee, and the water was even with the top of the levee.”
Did you know that if your home would flood more than 14 feet during a 100 year storm event, the state is not planning to provide resources for elevation and is recommending that you move? What do you think about that?
“Well, like I said, at first, we’d get the water and wind. Katrina was the first time we ever had that much water. And our area is protected by an 18 foot levee, and I think I still say, I would take the chance to stay here. I don’t wanna go nowhere else. I don’t wanna live nowhere else. Like I said, I’ve been all over the world and I wanna be here. I own property down there. I think I’m on like seven or eight lots of property. And some of them were like 20 acres--might be 100 acres. And I don’t want -- It’s my property! I don’t want to go nowhere else. Don’t want to go no where else. But like I said I’d rather take the chance and stay down low. In my lifetime, might never get water flooding again. But if it happens, I got flood insurance. But if you get it up in the air...Just about two weeks ago we had like 60 mile per hour winds came through here on a regular day and it came in through the night. And people I know--I know one family that have their house--they have a double wide mobile home, it’s elevated up to the 18 feet height, over the 14 feet [minimum], and they have to get outta their house. The couldn’t stay the night in their house because it was shaking just that bad and we [my wife and I] didn’t feel anything. We could hear the wind, we knew it was blowing! [Being low to the ground] that makes me feel safe in our home. And we’re gonna get that 10-15 times a year or more.”
If the state provided money to elevate or to buy your home, would you move? Would you ever consider moving, say if they moved your neighbors or family as well?
“I would say no, I wouldn’t move. I prefer to be right here. Right here we don’t have crime. If we get something on news that means somebody cattle done came out and somebody hit it with a car. That’s our number one crime. Yeah, it’s country and it’s peaceful. We don’t have to lock our doors every time we walk out. And it’s cheaper to live here, than to live in the big city. All utilities are not extra high cause we don't have to have air conditioning running 24 hours, all you gotta do is open up a window. So, I’d rather stay here because it’s cheaper and it’s convenient, and it’s where I’m from. I wanna live here.”
This blog is part of a series amplifying voices from communities in coastal Louisiana. Like many other residents on Louisiana’s coast, Clarence Brocks has a deep attachment to the place that he calls home. The state of Louisiana must work closely with communities as it begins to implement the nonstructural portion of the Coastal Master Plan. It must find the best methods to protect them while taking into account their concerns and priorities.
In collaboration with local, regional and national organizations, GRN submitted comments to the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority on the 2017 Coastal Master Plan with suggestions on how to improve the nonstructural aspect of the plan so that it prioritizes the communities most at risk. GRN will continue to work with coastal residents as well as our community and conservation partners to share knowledge about the coastal crisis and advocate to make sure the state provides coastal communities with the information, tools and resources that they need to survive.