Let's leap without looking. Slabbed explores the genesis of the sand berm scheme.

Folks the more I find out the more this sand berm scheme of dealing with the oil spill stinks. Let’s backtrack to last month to the beginning of the scheme and the bums rush to get it crammed down the Corps of Engineer’s throats per this Chris Kirkham story for the Times Picayune:

For years, state government officials, scientists and coastal residents have made numerous pleas to the federal government for money to restore Louisiana’s barrier islands.

In the midst of a catastrophic oil spill, they may finally get their shot.

At a news conference in Venice this afternoon, Gov. Bobby Jindal and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said they are already in discussions with BP and the Coast Guard to mobilize as many as 10 dredges to build up barrier islands in an attempt to prevent oil from getting into the state’s wetlands.

Nothing is set in stone, but Nungesser and officials with the governor’s office will meet with the Coast Guard and BP Monday to discuss the strategy.

“This is something that could take months, not years,” Jindal said,

Rough drafts of the plan show filling in gaps within the Chandeleur Islands, east of the Mississippi River and Breton Sound, and building up barrier islands to protect the Barataria Basin west of the river.

Nungesser had similar plans on the shelf already, as part of a coastal restoration and storm protection initiative that the parish has been discussing with the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Although the dredging could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, Nungesser said he believes it would be a good investment by BP to avoid the damage to sensitive coastal marshes and wildlife.

This is the problem in a nutshell because all these berms ever were we a belief and IMHO represent an attempt to short cut the process to repair long standing environmental damage. And early on it was also clear the berms would not be completed in time to prevent on shore damage from the oil spill. So what gives?   This is Louisiana folks and quite frankly I now wonder which politically connected contractors are making money off this boondoggle.

Let’s continue the history lesson as Bobby Jindal, self-serving politician trumps Bobby Jindal the environmentalist as we fast forward to mid May and this Chris Kirkham story:

In a steady stream of appearances across coastal Louisiana every day this week, Gov. Bobby Jindal has used the grim backdrop of oiled beaches and marshes to hammer home his administration’s central priority for fighting the encroaching Gulf oil spill: the construction of nearly 90 miles of sand barriers to block oil from reaching the wetlands.

Nearly two weeks ago, the state applied for a federal environmental permit to begin work, and Jindal has been griping daily about the slow response.

“Mother Nature’s defense is the best defense we’ve got,” Jindal said while surveying a thick blanket of oil in marsh grass at Pass a Loutre in Plaquemines Parish. “There’s no reason not to go ahead and approve this permit, get this done and keep this heavy oil out of the wetlands.”

“How can anybody say no, after seeing this?” Plaquemines Parish President Nungesser added.

It is easy to say no Billy Boy because this plan was hatched by politicians such as yourself and science was completely ignored. Heck coastal scientists were not even welcome to the party as political spin kicked into high gear as we continue:

But while Jindal and the state’s congressional delegation have waged an us-vs.-them battle with the federal government over what they term a slow, bureaucratic response, the state’s plan itself is a work in progress that raises considerable financial and ecological questions.

In the two weeks since the idea was introduced, it has already been radically reshaped. Originally, the sand for the islands would have come from the nearby sea bottom. In its current form, the plan will require the sand to be taken from as far as 50 to 100 miles from the construction site, adding $100 million to the original $250 million projected cost.

The Coast Guard and BP, which is on the hook for the cleanup from the Deepwater Horizon spill, would have to marshal as many as 18 dredges from across the country already at work on other jobs.

The rationale put forth by Jindal and Nungesser is straightforward: oil on offshore sand beaches is better than oil in the estuaries, where it poses longer-term damage to plant life and the state’s fisheries.

The plan would have to be approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and numerous other federal agencies.

One complication in evaluating the plan is that even though it is only two weeks old, it has already been substantially reshaped.

The first plan put forth by the state would have had the state continuously dredging sand from underwater areas only a mile away from where the islands would be built. The dredges would basically proceed down the island chains east and west of the river, creating a sort of trench in front of the new islands as they went.

Several government agencies and geologists objected to that plan, saying the trenches could eventually serve as a kind of trap for existing sand on barrier islands such as the Chandeleur chain. So in effect, they said, the plan might accelerate land loss.

“The beaches are terribly sand-starved, especially since the damage caused by Katrina and Gustav,” said Abby Sallenger, an oceanographer with the U.S. Geological Survey who has extensively studied island formations and changes throughout the Gulf coast. “So if sand is driven offshore (from the existing islands) and captured by the borrow area, it could end up being a sand deficit for the system.”

The trench could also destabilize the new sand formations by producing stronger waves that would eat away at newly created shorelines.

And we had early warning from the coastal science community all was not well with Jindal’s scheme as we continue:

While many scientists and environmental groups applaud the efforts of Jindal to deal with a potentially catastrophic threat to the state’s ecosystem, there are fears about using the state’s precious sand resources to build berms that are destined be fouled by oil.

“I think you have to consider these islands as much as possible in this emergency situation, but you really need to make sure you’re doing something that you’re not going to regret later,” said John Lopez, the coastal sustainability director for the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. “Obviously this is an emergency situation, but quality sand for barrier islands is not an unlimited resource in Louisiana, and we would not want to see depletion of the quality of sand that could be used down the road.”

Simply building a continuous six-foot sand berm in the Gulf could also greatly impact established tidal movements from the Gulf of Mexico and into Louisiana’s coastal marshes. The Chandeleur Islands, for example, have been severely degraded in recent decades by a constant battering of Gulf hurricanes.

Shallow tidal passes in that chain could be filled in relatively easily, experts say, because the base of the islands are still relatively intact – they’re just submerged. But the state’s proposal would also fill in major open passes between the Chandeleurs and Breton Island, closer to the Mississippi River.

Although the responses have not been publicly released, agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Fish and Wildlife Service are likely to raise concerns about the impacts on bird nesting and movement of marine resources in and out of the marshes.

Tinkering with those tidal flows could also have the long-term effect of disrupting barrier islands elsewhere that have so far stood up to the Gulf’s pounding waves.

“If they don’t accommodate the tidal volumes, that water’s going to come out somewhere,” said Jack Kindinger, director of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Coastal and Marine Science Center in St. Petersburg, Fla. “When you start changing the regime, the water’s going to find the weakest spots.”

Undeterred Jindal the politician appeared before the press a few days later acting the part of a spoiled kid that hasn’t gotten his way as we fast forward a few days to this Chris Kirkham story:

Frustration is mounting among Gov. Bobby Jindal and other state and local leaders as the federal government on Monday could not give a clear direction on whether the state can move ahead with a plan to erect more than 80 miles of sand barriers to keep oil from the Gulf of Mexico out of the state’s wetlands.

Jindal and Sen. David Vitter, R-La., pushed the plan again in a news conference this morning in Galliano with congressional leaders, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

“Every day that it’s not approved is another day the choice is made for us” to allow oil to seep into coastal marshes, Jindal said.

There is no way the dredging was going to spare the marshes being slicked as the work will take months to complete and the oil is already onshore so Jindal is again full of it. But all the area politicians began smelling easy BP money so just a few days later Rich Rainey reports on Steve Theriot and the ethically challenged gang in Parish government on the prowl for a cool million from BP:

On the same day that BP, the well’s owner, began pumping heavy fluids into the well to shut it down, council Chairman John Young proposed Theriot seek $1 million to begin dredging. The goal would be to pull sand from the ocean bottom and use it to plug passes between existing barrier islands, shielding the inner coast from the oil that has already escaped the well. The plan is not without its critics, who say it could have severe effects on the ecology of nearby estuaries.

Roberts called Young’s proposal a symbolic gesture, saying dredging in Jefferson Parish alone would cost at least $65 million. With the price tag of Jindal’s multi-parish plan estimated at $350 million, Councilman Tom Capella said the Jefferson council should do away with setting any budget limits on the project.

“If we limit ourselves to a dollar figure, and they say, ‘OK, here’s the money,’ then what happens when we start building and it’s $400 million and you have to come up with more money?” said Capella, who recalled the byzantine process of finding reimbursement for reconstruction projects that went over budget after Hurricane Katrina.

Of course we now know a good bit of the infrastructure work after Katrina in Jefferson Parish went to now convicted felon Bill Hubbard, the former St John the Baptist Parish President who was in cahoots with former Jefferson Parish Parish CAO Tim Whitmer. Should we really trust any Louisiana politician given the state’s sad history of public corruption on an environmental matter so sensitive?

Even worse, as I said above, coastal scientists were not welcome to this multi million dollar sand dredging party. I reintroduced coastal scientist Rob Young to Slabbed Nation and Rob was kind enough to stop in and comment with us. We also exchanged emails and in the course of the interview Rob shared something with me that literally bowled me over and I quote:

I have made an offer to the Governor’s office to allow us to monitor the success/failure of the first berm immediately after it is built so that the design of the other berms could be improved, or so the project could be abandoned if it isn’t working.  I have not heard back.

Governor Jindal sure has a curious way of saving the environment by ignoring offers of scientific help and taking steps that will probably damage it worse.

Just over the border here in Mississippi, we’ve watched in horror through time as Louisiana’s public policy included filling in wetlands and building levees to protect the subsequent investment over responsible development. We’ve watched the sanctioned destruction of its coastal marshes by allowing the oil companies to cut canals and dump their toxic waste in the wetlands.   How can Louisianians expect the other citizens of this country to take the environmental damage done the Louisiana wetlands seriously when Louisianians apparently does not view the topic seriously themselves judging from their actions.

Here at Slabbed we’ve been consistent in our support for the restoration of Louisiana’s wetlands. It would be nice if we had some help.


2 thoughts on “Let's leap without looking. Slabbed explores the genesis of the sand berm scheme.”

  1. SOP, I know a few COE employees very familiar with the coastal problem. This has been studied to death, done wrong and often, but there is a PhD in the environmental office that could solve all problems as he is a thinker & planner.

    I don’t know if he would leave them and act as a consultant/expert but I trust him as they say with my & our lives & livelihood. If interested in getting thtings done correct and also have the politicians happy w/o kick-backs or friendly contractors he would be your man.

    I just know someone has to do the work & this is a limited field

  2. Pigs get fat, and hogs get slaughtered. The JP politicians are already laying the groundwork for even more corruption. You would think that they would have learned their lessons from flitting around the fire with Broussard, Hubbard, River Birch, et al. Guess not.

    It is a crying shame that politicians espouse good intentions and the need to act quickly, when the real motivation is lining the pockets of their friends and relatives. God help us all.

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