Luke Fontana is “Nature’s Advocate”

by Patricia B. Mitchell, March 1975

Luke Fontana has been practicing law in New Orleans since 1968. He is currently representing a client in the much-publicized case involving the drainage of Louisiana swamps. Since the case is in litigation, Fontana did not comment on it, but he did discuss the importance of the coastal zone, and he also told a little about his personal history.

A native of Slidell, Louisiana (“I was born and raised in Slidell before it became a suburb of New Orleans.”), Fontana is a member of the Sierra Club and is, of course, deeply concerned about the environment.

The problems here are very serious. You don’t have to have lived here all of your life to know that shrimp are getting more expensive and difficult to find. Soft-shell crabs are beginning to be rare.”

“Right here in New Orleans we’re on an eco-system called the Maurepas-Pontchartrain-Catherine-Borgne Eco-system. This system provides us with feeding and nursing grounds for our shrimp and our crabs. If that eco-system ever were to collapse, it would be irreversible.

“There’s been a lot written on the drainage of the wetlands in the state of Louisiana. Basically we are a seafood area. If we lose that natural resource at this point, it will be a very crushing economic blow to this community.…Especially as we see that the oil industry is being depleted, there is no doubt that Louisiana’s coastal zone is in serious trouble. It’s well documented.”

Fontana was raised in a less commercialized Slidell. He remembers that on Wednesday afternoons businesses would close and everyone would go fishing. Slidell was Honey Island Swamp, Bayou Bonfouca, Bayou Liberty, trees, and marshes. As a youth, Fontana grew watermelons. He was also a hunter.

“I used to hunt with a gun — ever since I was a young boy — but I stopped in approximately 1968. I no longer had that killer instinct.”

As a teenager, Fontana commuted to Jesuit High School in New Orleans. He later attended Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, and then received his law degree from Tulane.

As a teenager, Fontana commuted to Jesuit High School in New Orleans. He later attended Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, and then received his law degree from Tulane.

“When I got out of law school, I didn’t immediately go into law practice. I went to live in a monastery for one year in Detroit, Michigan. I lived in the woods in a rural section of southern Indiana for awhile. I lived in a ghetto in Chicago. I paddled a canoe through Canada as part of a publicity stunt for the Northwest Fur Trade Company.

“I was obtaining an education, but I didn’t have to take any examinations or earn any certain grades. I had the freedom to think and to read and to experience different things.”

After acquiring both a formal and a practical education, Fontana returned to his home state. He chose to live in the French Quarter.

“I like the idea of living away from typical urbanizational/architectural style. I think of the United States as sort of plastic subdivisions and urban sprawl which doesn’t give anybody inner harmony by its architectural style.

“[T]he architectural style of the French Quarter… gives me a certain harmony….”

“I particularly like the idea of living in an area which has old buildings reflective of the past, and not having the pressures of technocratic modernization confront me every day. Just the architectural style of the French Quarter, as compared to modern architecture, gives me a certain harmony that I like.”

Fontana tried his hand at politics in 1970. He ran for United States Congress against F. Edward Hebert on an anti-Vietnam platform. The idealistic attorney is no longer interested in seeking a political office. He wants to write a few books and do some photography in addition to his career in law. He hopes to document “in a very nice memory/nostalgia way” some aspects of Southern life that he has experienced.

Looking further into the future, the young lawyer discussed whether or not New Orleans would be his permanent home. “If there comes a time when I can’t get seafood here, if there comes a time when nuclear power plants are in operation very close to my house, if there comes a time when there is a collapse of the coastal zone area, I’ll leave.”

Notes

The above article was first published under the “Professional” category within The Community Standard magazine, French Quarter, New Orleans, Volume 1, No. 5, March 1975.

Luke Fontana is executive attorney for Save Our Wetlands, Inc. (See the organization’s account of their activities during the 1970’s including those mentioned above

The original article can be viewed at Mitchell Publications.

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