Jun 23, 2010 8:02 PM by Chris Welty
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A dredging project favored by Gov. Bobby
Jindal to block oil from the Louisiana coast was halted by federal
authorities because it endangers long-term efforts to rebuild
eroding barrier islands that provide crucial hurricane protection,
an Interior Department official said Wednesday.
"You don't want to destroy the village to save the village,"
said Tom Strickland, Interior's assistant secretary for fish,
wildlife and parks.
Jindal has been championing construction of enormous sand berms
east and west of the mouth of the Mississippi River in hopes of
capturing oil from the BP spill before it reaches delicate
marshlands. The sand to build those berms is dredged from the Gulf
The problem, Strickland said, is that the state has been
dredging in a particularly sensitive area of the Chandeleur
Islands, violating a federal permit and possibly hastening the
deterioration of the islands.
The Chandeleurs, in the Breton National Wildlife Refuge east of
the Mississippi, are nesting grounds for species such as the brown
pelican, and they are part of a diminishing natural hurricane
barrier for Louisiana. Federal and state officials hope to someday
fully restore the islands, which have been eroding for decades.
Strickland said the berms are expected to last only about 90 days,
maybe not even that long in an active hurricane season.
Federal officials permitted the project after the state agreed
on May 14 to dredge sand from a less vulnerable area at the
northern tip of the Chandeleurs, Strickland said. However, soon
after dredging started on June 13, the state said it could not get
a pipeline in place to draw the sand from that area, according to
Strickland said the state sought - and was granted - permission
to temporality draw sand from the more vulnerable area a couple of
miles to the south.
Strickland said the state asked for five days to get the
pipeline placed for dredging from the northern Chandeleur area. A
week was granted but after that deadline passed the state said it
needed more time.
"We told them enough's enough," Strickland said, adding that
dredging is still being allowed on a related project west of the
Jindal insisted Wednesday that the area where the state has been
dredging was included in the original federal permit. He also said
the state intends to replace the sand in the sensitive area
Strickland said replacing the dredged sand is easier said than
done. "When you're replacing sand that has been packed down with
loose sand that's pumped in, you're not going to get the same kind
of bonding of it. It's at best a more limited repairing of what's
been taken out," he said.
Jindal and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser have
been vehemently critical of a lumbering cleanup effort by BP and
the federal government. Both have said federal authorities took
much too long to approve the berm project and require BP to cover
the $360 million cost.
However, some scientists have questioned whether the projects
are a good idea, noting, among other potential problems that a
hurricane might wipe out the berms soon after they are built.
Strickland said federal authorities were willing to risk that
possibility, agreeing with Jindal that the berms could be effective
in keeping some oil out of wetlands.
"If it can get up quickly enough and we do have some good
fortune with the weather it may well be able to be part of the
solution here," Strickland said.