See Booby Jindal and Billy “the blimp” Nungasser believe that if you run around acting like you’re in charge and “doing something” then voters will think you are an effective leader. But what the “near miss hurricane” showed is that they and their sand barriers are full of crap. Even worse, by insisting that BP hire local unemployed workers as clean up people, the tox results from previous oil spills show that they are also going to lead to people’s deaths. Way to go you two.
The shut down on June 23 of part of the state’s dredging operations for construction of offshore sand berms was treated by Governor Jindal as a sudden and arbitrary action by federal agencies. (1) But the reality is somewhat different.
While some media stories conveyed the impression that the state’s entire sand berm plan was approved by the Corps of Engineers in late May, only six sections of the original proposal were given a permit. Two sections to the east of the river, on the upper end of the Chandeleur Island chain, and four sections west of the river were authorized by the Corps, which described them as “critical locations where greater immediate benefit is likely to be achieved with minimal adverse disruption of coastal circulation patterns.” (2)
The Corps Permit specified the source areas for sand/sediment: Ship Shoal, South Pelto, the Mississippi River Offshore Disposal Site, and Pass a Loutre for the western sites, and St. Bernard shoal and Hewes Point for the sites to the east. The location of borrow and dredge sites at the northern end of the Chandeleur Islands has been one of the areas of greatest concern. NOAA and other agencies had pointed out that creating borrow pits or dredging in close proximity to the islands could cause accelerated erosion and even compromise their stability, so using a source site a couple of miles away was a condition of the permit.
Soon after receiving its permit, however, the state began to voice its intention to source near to the islands after all, due to a lack of pipe for pumping sand and mud from a distance. The state said it would replace sand from the dredged site within a few weeks, but federal agencies agreed to this change with a much shorter time limit because of the possible effects on the island.
Despite the Governor’s repeated claims that “we don’t have a day to wait,” the state was not ready for the approved level of dredging even after it was approved. Federal officials said that “the state has been unprepared since the beginning, has caused further delay because it did not have the proper pipe available and has continued to asked for time to shift to the offshore site. According to the Interior Department, it gave the state permission for more than a week to use the closer source of sand while locating the pipe, but that allowing the state to continue dredging could have negative effects on existing barrier islands.” (3)
An official with the Department of Interior noted that if the department had allowed the state to continue digging where it was digging, they feared approaching a “tipping point” with an “impact on that island chain that may never be restored.”(4) The Governor’s reaction was to completely ignore these considerations and instead attack the federal agencies: “We haven’t heard from them before today about any concern about these islands or this area. All of a sudden now that we’re building new land to protect our coast, they’re worried about a hypothetical consequence?” (5)
The Governor may not have heard or read the federal agencies concerns in their response to the state’s permit application, or have seen the U.S. Geological Survey report last year about the status of the Chandeleur Islands and how they could be actually restored in ways that minimize adverse impacts (http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2009/5252). He could have read the comments of his own Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, which pointed out in its letter to the Corps the need to “determine whether or not borrow area excavation will increase wave energy and subsequent shoreline erosion, alter littoral currents, or otherwise impact depositional processes, in a way that undermines the sustainability of inland islands, marsh, and shorelines, most importantly the Chandeleur Islands.” (6)
For views of the sand berm and other spill related issues from the perspective of a coastal scientist please visit the Louisiana Coast Post by Len Bahr, Ph.D. Dr. Bahr is a former LSU marine sciences faculty member who served 18 years as a coastal policy advisor to Louisiana governors from Roemer to Jindal. Dr. Bahr gives the sand berm plan an official “thumbs down” here.
(2) Documents related to the plan and the state’s permit request to the Corps of Engineers have been posted at http://leanweb.org/images/stories/bpspill/emergency_permit_documents_final.pdf.
(3) C. Kirkham, J. Tilove, Times-Picayune, “State halts dredging of sand for berms,” 6/23/10.
(4) Times-Picayune, 6/24/10.
(5) Times-Picayune, 6/24/10.
(6) Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries, letter of 5/13/10, http://leanweb.org/images/stories/bpspill/emergency_permit_documents_final.pdf.
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