Strolling on a boardwalk through a cypress swamp in the heart of Jean Lafitte, Mayor Timothy Kerner, Jr. points to a clearing where someday he hopes to construct a replica of a long-gone shrimping outpost.

Among the first Filipino settlements in the United States, the place known as Manila Village, located on the northern edge of Barataria Bay, was wiped out in 1965 by Hurricane Betsy.

“It ties into the story of things that were lost,” said Kerner, a descendant of the “Manila Men” who founded the settlement. “And why wetlands are so important to save.”

The replica is one of several projects on Kerner’s wish list. Further up the trail, he envisions a wedding pavilion, as well as an earthen amphitheater, “almost like the Red Rocks of south Louisiana.”


A dock looks over water hyacinths filled water in an area Mayor Tim Kerner Jr. believes could be a beautiful place for people to have weddings in Jean Lafitte, La., Wednesday, June 7, 2023. (Photo by Sophia Germer,, The Times-Picayune)


Mayor Tim Kerner Jr. holds an early conceptual sketch of an amphitheater in Jean Lafitte, La., Wednesday, June 7, 2023. Lots of changes have been make since the sketch. (Photo by Sophia Germer,, The Times-Picayune)

Nearby, construction is already underway on the Louisiana Wetlands Education Center, a 3,500-square foot facility funded through a mix of state and federal dollars that Kerner hopes will inform visitors on the crisis facing Louisiana's coast. 

At the same time, Kerner is pressing for bigger and better levees to protect the almost 4,000 residents of Jean Lafitte, Barataria, Crown Point and lower Lafitte.

Vulnerabilities laid bare

For the 32-year-old mayor — the latest in a line of Kerners to run Lafitte — the projects are part of a strategy to spare lower Jefferson Parish from a similar fate as Manila Village.

Through much of its history, Lafitte was buffeted by hurricanes but avoided major destruction. That changed in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina’s race car fast winds tore off roofs and Hurricane Rita flooded lower Jefferson Parish. More devastation followed with subsequent storms.

Sucker punch: Tropical Storm Cindy's delayed hit on Jean Lafitte

Sandbags placed by the levee yesterday, Wednesday June 21, are poor defenses against rising flood waters. Tropical Storm Cindy combined with high tide and high winds causes water levels in Lafitte, L.A. to rise above the levees and creates massive flooding Thursday June 22, 2017. (Photo by Frankie Prijatel, | The Times-Picayune)

The bayou community’s vulnerabilities were laid bare again nearly two years ago, when Hurricane Ida’s 11-foot storm surge sent a wave of water and mud over Lafitte’s levees, damaging an estimated 90% of homes.

The scars from the Category 4 storm are still evident: nearly 150 families are living in temporary trailers; Fisher Middle-High School remains shuttered; and waterways used by residents to get to and from their homes are clogged with debris.

This drone video shows pumps removing water from the Lafitte community in Jefferson Parish after Hurricane Ida pushed water and waves over 7-foot-high floodwalls and levees. State officials want to discuss with federal officials whether there are more "sustainable" ways of protecting the area from hurricane surge flooding. (Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority)

As lower Jefferson Parish continues to recover, Kerner hopes his wish list of projects — which also include bike trails, kayak launches and houseboats for overnight stays — will position Lafitte in the future as a premiere place to live and visit.

“We’re about to transform this place,” Kerner said. “I’m really trying to squeeze every penny’s worth of potential out of it.”

Levee projects

In his work on behalf of the town, Kerner is employing the same double-barreled strategy of his father: fight for greater storm protection while building, building, building to demonstrate to outside agencies and political leaders that there is plenty worth protecting.

Timothy Kerner Sr., who served seven terms as mayor before he was elected as a state representative, built a 1,300-seat auditorium, a library, a wetlands museum, a civic center and a baseball park in Lafitte.

Still, the younger Kerner, like his father, is sober about the fact that “none of that works if you don’t have the hurricane protection.”


A levee where Mayor Tim Kerner Jr. wants to put in a bike path snakes around the Jean Lafitte Wetland Trace area in Jean Lafitte, La., Wednesday, June 7, 2023. (Photo by Sophia Germer,, The Times-Picayune)

Lafitte is located outside the colossal hurricane protection system that surrounds New Orleans and much of the rest of Jefferson Parish, and instead relies on a more modest ring of 7 1⁄2-foot-tall levees.

Since Ida hit, Kerner has been pressing state and federal officials for more spending on projects to protect his area.

In the coming months, construction will start on improvements to levees and floodwalls at five of its 10 drainage basins, providing protection against high tides or rainstorms that have a 10 percent chance of occurring in any year, a so-called 10-year event.


Workers build a levee by the bridge in Jean Lafitte, La., Wednesday, June 7, 2023. (Photo by Sophia Germer,, The Times-Picayune)

That work is thanks to a combined $170 million from the state's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. Kerner called it a "miracle."

Bren Hasse, CPRA's executive director, said keeping lower Jefferson Parish fortified keeps the New Orleans-area protected. 

"Our mantra is we want to protect the protection," Hasse said. "We want as many speed bumps between us and the Gulf of Mexico."


Jeff Adam, assistant to Mayor Tim Kerner Jr., looks out the window of the future Louisiana Wetlands Education Center in Jean Lafitte, La., Wednesday, June 7, 2023. (Photo by Sophia Germer,, The Times-Picayune)

While funding hasn’t been identified, the 50-year Coastal Master Plan approved by the state Legislature last month calls for raising the levees around lower Jefferson Parish to 16 feet, an effort that would cost around $1.4 billion.

Flood insurance

While bigger levees and other storm protection would help residents maintain their properties and livelihoods, there's another challenge looming: the cost of flood insurance. Under FEMA’s new system for setting premiums, known as Risk Rating 2.0, annual flood insurance rates in Lafitte are slated to rise from an average of $947 to $2,764.

Last month, Louisiana joined nine other states in a lawsuit challenging the federal government over its new system.

While the flood insurance fight happens at the state and federal level, Kerner is working to reopen Fisher Middle-High School. On Thursday, Kerner, alongside staffers in U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise’s office and Jefferson Parish school officials, met with FEMA representatives to figure out how to expedite its demolition and reconstruction.


Mayor Tim Kerner Jr. stands in the mud as he talks about his need for a levee around Lafitte, Jean Lafitte and Barataria, after Hurricane Ida in Lafitte, La., Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. (Photo by Sophia Germer,, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

Beginning in August, students from Fisher will no longer have to drive 14 miles north to John Ehret High School, where they’ve been temporarily placed since Ida. Instead, they’ll go to attend school at the newly renovated West Bank Community School campus.

Kerner said reopening Fisher Middle-High School, which was most recently given an A-grade by the state, is vital to Lafitte’s future, and figures that people will be willing to spend a little extra for insurance if they can save thousands of dollars by sending their kids to a good public school instead of private school.

Tourism destination

With lower Jefferson Parish only a half-hour drive from the Crescent City Connection, Kerner is also convinced that Lafitte can grow to become a destination for tourists.

“Colorado has mountains. We have beautiful swamps,” Kerner said. “But there’s not really a spot where you can go out and enjoy it.”

As a millennial political leader, Kerner is attuned to what younger generations tourists are looking for, namely, “social-media worthy, Instagram-worthy” experiences. During a tour of the Wetlands Trace trail where hopes to construct the Manila Village replica, he asked a staffer to relocate a “Do Not Feed Alligators” sign to a less conspicuous location, so as not to block the view for photographs.


Mayor Tim Kerner Jr. takes a swamp tour with Airboat Adventures near Jean Lafitte, La., Wednesday, June 7, 2023. (Photo by Sophia Germer,, The Times-Picayune)

“The West Bank (of Jefferson Parish) in general has the opportunity to be the Brooklyn of New Orleans,” Kerner said. “Why can't we be that artsy, trendy district?”

The tourism industry has become an increasingly vital source of work for boaters and fisherman. 

Jay Boutte, 50, grew up on a shrimp boat, and now gives tours with Airboat Adventures. The Barataria resident said while obstacles remain with insurance, he's confident in lower Jefferson's future. 

"All of the hurricanes in my lifetime didn't do as much damage as Ida did," he said. "I didn't think we was going to come back from it like we have...We took the lick and we're still here."

Email Blake Paterson at and follow him on Twitter, @blakepater.