State might purchase Elmer’s Island

 

The results of an online survey conducted to gauge the public’s interest in Elmer’s Island have confirmed what some believed all along.

Louisiana residents are overwhelmingly in favor of the state purchasing Elmer’s Island, with 96 percent preferring that option to possible commercial development on the island.

State officials say that Gov. Mike Foster could be making an offer soon to the Elmer family for purchasing the property in southern Lafourche Parish.

“We are pursuing this,” said Angelle Davis, the state’s deputy commissioner of administration.

“We are very much interested in purchasing Elmer’s Island. The state would like to see this, and Gov. Foster is very interested in making Elmer’s Island accessible to the public again.”

Elmer’s Island, a longtime favorite fishing, beach-combing and vacationing spot near Grand Isle, has been closed and on the market for about two years now, and a number of organizations and residents have been petitioning the state to purchase the property to save it from development.

Earlier this year, researchers with the LSU AgCenter’s Center for Natural Resource Economics and Policy (CNREP), with grant funding from the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program, embarked on a study to gauge public support for the possible acquisition.

The results of that survey were released on Tuesday

Those who participated in the online survey voted overwhelmingly to have the state purchase Elmer’s Island, a 1,700-acre barrier beachfront with dunes and marshes.

Those who have been on the forefront of the push to purchase the property say the report reinvigorates the effort to preserve Elmer’s Island for public enjoyment.

“This new report highlights the value of Elmer’s Island to the people and the economy of Louisiana,” said Randy Lanctot, executive director of the Louisiana Wildlife Federation, a group of sportsmen and conservationists who began a grassroots push to have the state purchase the island.

“The federation believes that purchasing the property is a wise investment of state dollars, and that belief is corroborated by the findings of the CNREP report.”

Following Elmer’s Island’s closure, the federation began to appeal for help purchasing Elmer’s Island.

Other sportsmen’s groups, nature and coastal advocacy groups and local governments became involved.

Keith Saucier, a former president of the Louisiana Wildlife Federation and a Grand Isle camp owner who serves as chairman of the Elmer’s Island Acquisition Committee, said the public has responded well to that appeal.

“We’ve been very successful,” said Saucier.

Thousands have signed petitions and hundreds have written letters to the governor urging the state to acquire the property.

Saucier noted the report gives “new life” to the campaign.

LSU AgCenter researchers Rex Caffey and Krishna Paudel conducted the survey with funding from the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program

Although some respondents disapproved of the effort – some believed the purchase an ineffective use of tax dollars, while others preferred to see other areas be highlighted – the majority were in favor.

“It indicates strong, strong public support,” said Caffey.

Researchers began the survey May 15 and collected nearly 2,500 responses in less than 12 weeks. They also conducted more than 200 interviews with visitors to Grand Isle State Park.

Many agreed that the property should be managed primitively, preferring that the property become a state park or a wildlife management area.

Those participating also expressed concerns about access to areas such as Elmer’s Island, which they said is being continuously eroded.

“Access is the principal need,” one responded.

Respondents were also interested in preserving wildlife habitat on the island.

Still others noted that the purchase would be an example of the state’s commitment to its dwindling coastal resources, as well as a way to introduce the state’s younger generation to coastal conservation.

“Elmer’s Island should be an adventure. A place they can enjoy and learn why our coastal wetlands are so important to our state,” wrote one participant. “It is our future generation that will be the ones to fight for the preservation of our wetlands not big business. Give our kids a place they can experience the joy and excitement of the state’s coastal beaches and wetlands and they will be your biggest supporters.”

According to the survey results, most respondents were willing to pay for the trip to Elmer’s Island, on average, $5 per person per day.

With a conservative estimate of 40,000 to 50,000 visitors a year, the fees would likely be $200,000 to $300,000 each year.

Caffey added that his calculations using a business property appraisal model place the value of the island in the $1.9 million to $2.8 million range.

“This could supplement the original offer of $1 million the state made earlier this year,” he said.

Earlier this year, the state had a preliminary appraisal done on Elmer’s Island and was in negotiations with the Elmer family when the LSU AgCenter began its survey.

Davis said negotiations were postponed then, but that she hopes they will be taken up again once Foster has been able to review the results of the AgCenter survey.

“We had to have an opportunity to review LSU’s study,” said Davis.

It’s very valuable information for us to have, and it’s good information that can be used in conjunction with our supplemental appraisal.”