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October 2010 Coastal Scuttlebutt (continued)

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BOO!!!

October 31

While you’re savoring the incredible fall weather and buying candy for tonight’s Trick-or-Treaters who’ll no doubt interrupt the Saints-Steelers game you’re hopefully also thinking ahead to election day on Tuesday. Congressional races in Louisiana haven’t gotten nearly as much attention as have the statewide races for US Senate and Lt. Governor. Gerard Shields provides a good summary in today’s The Advocate of the candidates vying for Louisiana’s seven seats, one of which may be eliminated when the 2010 Census results roll around. Check out the feature Halloween post on coastal politics, written appropriately enough by a ghost writer, for recommendations from the editor of LaCoastPost. Happy Halloween!

October 30

The Corps as a pincushion

Last evening at the final ‘Live After Five’ concert in downtown Baton Rouge I ran into Randy Lanctot, Executive Director of the Louisiana Wildlife Federation, who subsequently forwarded the following press release that explains itself:

For Immediate Release; Contact: Randy Lanctot (randy@lawildlifefed.org) or Chris Macaluso (chris@lawildlifefed.org); 225-344-6762

Corps Rapped on Delta Channel Management Practice

The Louisiana Wildlife Federation (LWF) has sent a letter to the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) supporting DNR’s charge that the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) is in violation of Louisiana’s coastal zone management regulations for its channel maintenance practices along the lower Mississippi River.

The federations’ October 25 th letter to DNR Assistant Secretary Louis Buatt concurred with the state’s position expressed in Buatt’s October 13th letter to the New Orleans District commander that took the Corps to task for its lack of compliance.  At issue is the deposition of sediment removed for navigation purposes near Head of Passes into the head waters of Pass-a-Loutre and South Pass.

This purposeful induced shoaling of Pass-a-Loutre is meant to maintain water velocity within the main navigation channel of Southwest Pass and therefore reduce the amount of dredging required for navigation.  The shoaling at Pass a Loutre, however, is blocking much needed sediment and freshwater from feeding vital fisheries and wildlife habitats, and exacerbating coastal land loss.

Despite repeated requests from DNR and other agencies and organizations to change its dredging practices, the Corps has continued violating state regulations by damaging existing wetlands along the lower river as well as by not using the dredged material beneficially to build marsh to the maximum extent practicable.

“It is long past time for the Corps, and the navigation industry it serves with its channel maintenance work, to come into compliance with the imperative to not only restore as much of the Louisiana coast as possible but to prevent its further demise”, said the LWF in its letter.

Wetlands adjacent to Pass-a-Loutre that comprise the Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife Management Area and the Delta National Wildlife Refuge have been negatively impacted by the Corps’ dredging tactics, compromising habitat especially important for migrating waterfowl.

“It is not acceptable for the Corps to continue to operate its navigation maintenance program at cross purposes with conservation and restoration of coastal wetlands when simple adjustments in methods and attitude is all it would take to turn a waste into an asset,” LWF asserted.

The wildlife group’s letter was sent in support of the most recent iteration of the state’s demand that the Corps change its ways and manage dredged spoil in a manner that is consistent with Louisiana’s Coastal Resources Program.

The Louisiana Wildlife Federation is a statewide conservation education and advocacy organization with over 8,000 members and 25 affiliated groups throughout Louisiana.  Established in 1940, it is affiliated with the National Wildlife Federation and represents a broad constituency of conservationists including hunters, fishers, birders, boaters and other outdoor enthusiasts. For more information visit www.lawildlifefed.org.

Randy P. Lanctot

Executive Director

Louisiana Wildlife Federation

phone/fax 225/344-6707

October 29

Blowout the result of faulty Halliburton cement?

Many media reports today, including this AP story by Dina Cappiello carried  by ABC News, discuss a finding by the White House Oil Spill Commission that points to a faulty cement mixture in the chain of events that led up to the Macondo well blowout, although BP is not off the hook. It’s sadly ironic that industry, as well as the US Defense Department, seem both to have been taken in by Halliburton, with huge costs to taxpayers and the environment.

October 28

Jason: this is algae, not oil! (photo from The Times-Picayune)

Louisiana shrimpers aren’t idiots!

Editor’s note: One of my favorite political bloggers is Jason Linkins, who writes for Huffingtonpost. That being said, this coastal mini-post is a personal response to Mr. Linkins, who wrote a highly misleading piece that describes shrimp trawling in Louisiana in the middle of what he described as an oil slick.

Dear Jason,

I’m a coastal scientist, formerly a faculty member at LSU and until retiring in 2008 a coastal policy advisor to five successive Louisiana governors. I respect your political acumen, enjoy your sardonic wit and, as a fellow blogger, I’m awed by the volume of your output.

Thus I was dismayed to read your emotional and erroneous piece in Huffingtonpost about Louisiana shrimpers being encouraged to harvest gulf shrimp drenched in oil, while state wildlife officials look the other way. In the future I encourage you to milk Louisiana’s endless ‘chocolate fountain’ of legitimate political targets and avoid technical issues on the embattled Mississippi River delta that don’t lend themselves to simple sound bites.

Almost two years before the BP blowout I retired from the governor’s office and created LaCoastPost as a soapbox to call attention to serious coastal policy issues with which I disagree on technical grounds. The blowout added a lot more fodder for criticism, including BP’s notorious human safety and environmental record, slipshod regulation by the feds and Governor Jindal’s preposterous $360 million sand barrier project to intercept oil.

In addition to real issues on our embattled coast, however, there are plenty of questionable, exaggerated or bogus ones being trumped up for purely political reasons. As a prime example I would point to the universally vociferous opposition by state officials to the federal drilling moratorium, now ended, which was predicted to end life as we know it in south Louisiana. So far life continues, even as sea level rises and the gulf moves north.

I’m clearly not the darling of Governor Jindal, who has become a prime target for my coastal criticism. Nevertheless, his staff includes some smart folks who really care about the coast, including Bob Barham, former state senator and Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Since April 20 2010 I have heard no policy basis on which to criticize this man who was slurred by your post.

Our shrimpers have long suffered from underpriced foreign imports and now they are victimized by a national ‘oily shrimp’ image that your piece reinforced. These folks are far too smart to trawl for shrimp through oil residues.

Finally, today’s The Times-Picayune carries a relevant and timely article by Bob Marshall, as credible a coastal reporter as I can imagine. Marshall reported that the massive brown patches of ‘weathered oil’ described in your piece was in fact a large bloom of algae.

Sincerely,

Len Bahr, Ph.D., Founding editor leonardbahr@gmx.com

WS Merwin, new poet Laureate, mentioned here on July 3 2009!

I’m not bragging but here’s a link to my original post on this insightful man and poet ecologist, just named American Poet Laureate, who appeared last evening on the PBS Newshour.


Successive BP CEOs Tony Hayden and Bob Dudley as I picture them as cellmates in the hoosegow.

October 27

BP deserves disgust, disdain and debarment.* Oh, and its corporate bosses need time in ‘de ol’ graybar hotel!

If, like me, you answer ‘Yes’ to either of the following questions, this carefully-researched and objective article by Abrahm Lustgarten in Propublic may influence your thinking, as it did mine:

1) Have you been ambiguous about whether the unprecedented release of 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the most productive ecosystem in the lower nineteen coastal states was a tragic accident…or the consequence of a criminally-culpable corporate creed? I learned that, compared to other major oil companies, BP’s abysmal record of environmental compliance has been truly outrageous.

2) Have you ever felt inclined to lump the environmental regulatory officials employed by the EPA into a faceless flock of fumbling federales? The heroic but ultimately futile actions of retired EPA attorney Jeanne Pascal may give you pause. This article requires a significant investment in time but it will open your eyes and it gets my highest recommendation.

If the article whets your appetite for a more detailed portrait of the incident watch the podcast of the PBS Frontline feature that was telecast last night.

Here’s Frontline’s summary of the program:

Over the past decade, BP vaulted from an energy “also-ran” to one of the biggest companies in the world, gobbling up competitors in a series of mergers that delivered handsome profits for shareholders. But an investigation by FRONTLINE and the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica shows that BP’s leadership failed to create a culture of safety in the massive new company. As BP took increasingly big risks to find oil and extract it, the company left behind a trail of mounting problems: deadly accidents, disastrous spills, countless safety violations. Each time, BP acknowledged the wider flaws in its culture and promised to do better. The FRONTLINE/ProPublica investigation shows that the rhetoric was empty. From the refineries to the oil fields to the Gulf of Mexico, BP workers understood that profits came first. (read more »)

The refusal by current BP CEO Bob Dudley to grant Frontline an interview is noteworthy, as is the fact that Louisiana Senator David Vitter advocated capping BP’s liability for the incident.

*Read the article to learn the meaning and significance of debarment.

Permitting controversy re dredged sand disposal

An authoritative colleague sent an interesting email that I edited only slightly:

Len-

Are you aware that the state has found the Corps’ dredged material disposal methods at Head of Passes to be inconsistent with the Louisiana Coastal Resources Program (LCRP)?

This is a very big deal – almost a veto. I’m no expert on this, but some of the refuge folks and state coastal engineers believe that Corps practices have been responsible for degradation in the two local wildlife refuges. You can bet that the LCRP is catching a lot of political heat on this right now.

October 26

A hypothetical hybrid colonial algae with inclusions of BP oil

Oilgae? Algoil?

Bob Marshall reported in today’s The Times-Picayune that what had previously been reported as massive accumulations of floating weathered oil on the west side of lower Plaquemines Parish may actually be a large bloom of algae. This major correction is based on samples collected by Sibel Bargu Ates, a scientist from LSU. The samples are being further analyzed to determine whether oil residues are mixed in with the algal cells.

Medioil?

Meanwhile, Stephen Beard on American Public Media’s Marketplace reported that BP’s new CEO Bob Dudley gave a speech yesterday in London in which he blamed the media and politicians for exaggerating the extent and significance of the blowout. Meanwhile in New Orleans William Reilly, co-chair of the presidential oil spill commission, said that BP fed the rumor mill that resulted in many hyperbolic projections.

During the same broadcast Globalist’s Stephan Richter quizzed Bill Raadke on US and global oil reserves, production and consumption.

While the US is currently producing 8.5% of the world’s petroleum we are consuming 20% and own only 2% of the world’s proven reserves. Sadly, I’m confident that only a small minority of the 535 members of the new House and Senate that will convene at the Capitol in DC in January understand these critical statistics.

The paramount role for the new Congress should be to develop a new and smarter energy policy. Given the political mood of the country, however, the odds of such action are tiny. We delude ourselves and waste valuable time thinking that we can drill ourselves into energy independence.

Happy 40th, Doonesbury!

Mike Doonesbury

If you’re a fan of Jane Pauley’s husband Garry Trudeau like I am, you’re probably aware that today marks the 40th anniversary of the iconic cartoon strip that he created while a student at Yale. Check out his interview with Rene’ Montaigne on NPR’s Morning Edition today. As for the coastal significance of Doonesbury I’m struggling but in my mind everything is connected.

October 25

Gasoline prices, the coast and higher ed

Gasoline prices nationwide went up by a nickel during the past two weeks but I doubt if driving habits changed measurably in the Bayou State. Nevertheless, changes in the marginal cost of gasoline will affect driving habits at some point.

Will Sentell wrote a feature business article for today’s The Advocate about a coalition of highway construction interests that, against all odds, is floating the concept of boosting Louisiana gasoline taxes by a dime, from $0.38 to $0.48, to be dedicated for state highway projects.

I would suggest that the sponsors of this idea should include its implicit reduction in CO2 emissions. If nothing else, even a small self-imposed increase in gasoline cost would send the nation a signal that we’re willing to do our part to help save our coast from rising sea level.

I would also urge the promoters of this concept to add Louisiana’s beleaguered higher education system to their transportation cause. Dedicating one penny of the proposed increase in gasoline cost to Louisiana colleges could sweeten the medicine and offset an approaching crisis. I can envision bumper stickers such as shown above on stadium-bound SUVs on Saturday game days.

Oil rigs and jellyfsh

Richard Thompson wrote an article for yesterday’s The Times-Picayune in which he described the possibility of leaving obsolete offshore oil rigs in place to serve as artificial reefs. This saves rig owners the cost of removing the structures and benefits charter fishing captains but it disadvantages shrimp trawlers who have to avoid steel navigation hazards.

Not mentioned in the article is that a global explosion in jellyfish populations may partly be the result of expanded artificial habitat that oil rigs provide for the hydroid, or vegetative life stage of jellyfish. Hydroids are little ‘stalks’ that live attached to hard structures and serve as the asexual part of the jellyfish life cycle and that bud off the umbrella-like swimming medusae (jellyfish) that consume fish larvae, clog trawls and sting human swimmers.

October 24

BP Claims not specifically related to site of release

Yesterday’s The New York Times published an interesting account by David Segal of the geographical pattern of claims against BP for the Macondo well blowout. Claims from Florida rival those from Louisiana. Read the article to find out why.

Will sea level rise accelerate after the midterm election?

Today’s The New York Times carries a feature article by Jeff Zeleny and Carl Hulse on the imminent takeover of the House if not the Senate after the midterm elections on November 2nd.

The lead story on yesterday’s All Things Considered on NPR focused on the unlikely passage of climate change legislation after the predicted significant increase in Republican influence in the post-midterm Congress referred to above. Here’s the summary:

The majority of Republicans running for House and Senate seats this year don’t agree that human activity is responsible for global warming. And one outgoing GOP congressman says when he tells his colleagues he believes the science, “People look at you like you’ve grown an extra head or something.”

October 23

Here today, gone yesterday

Bob Marshall reported in today’s The Times-Picayune that weathered oil has reappeared floating in significant quantities west of the bird’s foot delta of the lower Mississippi River. On the other hand, the Coast Guard reportedly found no oil in bottom samples surrounding the wellhead, where University of Georgia scientist Samantha Joye previously found a two inch thick layer. The cyclic reports of oil being found today where it was gone yesterday, or vice versa, are truly bizarre.

October 22

How you will vote on November 2nd!

As the midterm election approaches I call your attention to this tongue-in-cheek and timely flowchart that I discovered in HuffingtonPost and modified slightly for the benefit of Bayou State voters. If you vote in another state substitute the appropriate R and D candidates.

The Old Gray Lady weighs in on Jindal sand berms

The New York Times has seen fit to feature one more story (by John Collins Rudolf) on the curious continuing counterintuitive construction of coastal sand berms by the Louisiana governor’s office – justified to protect south Louisiana against a threat of oil that has largely gone away. It’s truly gratifying that the consistent effort on the part of LaCoastPost.com to call attention to this incredibly expensive and ill-conceived project has not been totally Quixotic.

Support for governor’s office decision to release river water during blowout

Throughout the excruciating period from April 20 to July 15 and since, state responses to the Macondo well blowout have been the target of frequent criticism in LaCoastPost.com – primarily because politics almost always trumped science when it came to policy. An important exception, for which the governor’s office deserves credit, was the decision to open river water diversion structures at Davis Pond on the west bank and Caernarvon on the east to flush oil from coastal estuaries, despite opposition from some oyster growers in Plaquemines Parish and elsewhere.

On that subject I call your attention to a Letter to the Editor of The Times-Picayune by Randy Lanctot, director of The Louisiana Wildlife Federation and his assistant Chris Macaluso (formerly communications officer with the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities).

Controversial? NPR interview on oil impacts

Yesterday an author and environmental activist named Terry Tempest Williams was interviewed by Neal Conan on NPR’s Talk of The Nation about her article in the November-December issue of Orion Magazine that describes her experiences on the gulf coast this summer during the oil release crisis.

The 17 minute interview is very pessimistic and laced with breathlessly emotional overtones. Ms. Williams’ opinions contrast strongly with recent scientific assessments that the oil is mostly gone, that its effects could have been much worse and that the gulf coast may have dodged a BP bullet. The folks with whom she spent time included Paul Kemp, Ph.D., a long term friend and coastal science colleague, now the principal Louisiana scientist for the Audubon Society.

This interview provoked an interesting alcohol-fueled ‘debate’ between myself and an old friend and environmental cynic. He was furious that NPR would have broadcast what he thought was a greatly unbalanced interview that, in his opinion, vastly exaggerated the impacts of the blowout.

My friend suggested that if I were truly interested in the expression of factual information about the coast I would contact NPR and express my umbrage at this interview. His passion persuaded me to listen to the podcast of the interview and then to read the entire article on which the interview was based.

Following this exercise I must say that, although as a scientist I don’t agree with all of Ms. Williams’ largely anecdotal arguments and conclusions, she didn’t budge my umbrage meter. Frankly I was much more concerned yesterday about NPR’s decision to fire Juan Williams, giving Fox News an excuse to complain about public broadcasting.

Next Thursday when I rejoin my friend over whiskey and wine I will rail against what is really outrageous from a coastal standpoint, the well funded and effective political efforts to discredit and cover up the crisis of climate change. Listen to the interview and/or read the article and see what you think.

Sea turtles degreased and released

Amy Wold reported on sea turtle rehabilitation and release in today’s The Advocate, a tribute to many dedicated workers who rescued hundreds of oiled reptiles.

October 21

$700 billion 20 year cost of climate change on the gulf coast

As noted yesterday, an economic projection of the 20-year economic future of the gulf coast was formally released as a keystone component of the Deltas2010: World Delta Dialogue conference in New Orleans that is wrapping up today.

This report, “Building a Resilient Energy Gulf Coast,” was commissioned by the Entergy Corporation and is endorsed by the America’s Wetland Foundation. Click here for a link to the Executive Summary of the report.

Mark Schleifstein reviewed the report for The Times-Picayune; Cain Burdeau covered the report for AP in an article that was published in The Advocate; and Amy Wold wrote an article on the report for today’s The Advocate.

During yesterday’s wrap-up luncheon at the Deltas2010 conference Entergy CEO J. Wayne Leonard described why he fervently believes in anthropogenic climate change (ACC); why he sees the current political response to ACC as totally inappropriate; and what must happen to preclude total disaster.

I’m working on a feature post on my thoughts on the significance of the Deltas2010 conference in general and Entergy’s study in particular.

October 20

More thoughts on Is that all there is?

Today marks exactly six months since April 20 and the Macondo well blowout that killed eleven workers and, before it was sealed on July 15, released about 4.9 million barrels of oil into the gulf. My friend Thomas Marino sent me this link to a story by Rick Jarvis in USA Today that seems to rebut my comments in yesterday’s coastal news du jour, in which I may have seemed to downplay the significance of the event. The article cites Ed Owens, an old LSU coastal colleague whose company has been active in the recovery operation. I last saw Ed at the memorial service for our late mutual friend Shea Penland.

My comments should in no way be interpreted to mean that I don’t think the disaster was really a disaster but rather that the real challenge will be saving at least some of the Mississippi River delta, which is far more important in the long run – and far less likely to be successful.

Mark Schleifstein’s report in today’s The Times-Picayune exemplifies this perspective, given the dire effects of climate change on the gulf coast projected in a new report by Entergy to be released today at the Deltas2010 conference in New Orleans. The report estimates a $350 billion cost of coastal land loss and storm damage expected by the year 2030.

I still urge you to click on the Youtube video clip of Peggy Lee singing this song here.

October 19

The late Peggy Lee

Is that all there is?

Chris Kirkham reported in today’s The Times-Picayune that, for all practical purposes, the 4.9 million barrels of oil released off the Louisiana coast from the Macondo well blowout is gone. This conclusion was based on an interview with the federal on-scene coordinator, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft, and science adviser Steve Lehmann from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

This report reminds me of Peggy Lee’s memorable 1969 recording of the existentialist song Is That All There Is? Watch a Youtube four minute thirty-eight second video of Ms. Lee singing this song here.

In all seriousness, this is truly good news. Now we can return to focusing on ‘simply’ trying to save what’s left of the largest delta in North America.

I’ll be attending portions of the Deltas2010 conference in New Orleans today and tomorrow. Hopefully I won’t return to Baton Rouge humming Is That All There Is.

Nucor could help save the coast with a conveyance channel into the Maurepas Swamp

Nucor in the news – but not a word about a conveyance channel

A breaking news story from AP in today’s The Times-Picayune hints at growing unrest among Governor Jindal’s friends in the legislature over the gov’s decision to take $30 million from approved construction projects to give the Nucor company a ‘sweetener’ for building their iron plant in sugar cane fields in St. James Parish. Nary a word so far about asking the company to give something back for the coast, like the right-of-way for a conveyance channel to put river water into the dying Maurepas Swamp system.

October 18

Free levee sediment ignored by coastal officials

Mark Schleifstein wrote an important article for today’s The Times-Picayune on the consideration by the Corps of Engineers to relax levee construction standards so as to reduce the cost of hurricane protection. Serious state budget shortfalls for FY 2011 and beyond are making it increasingly problematic for Louisiana to pay its 35% share for the protection part of coastal protection and restoration, i.e., the rapidly expanding cost of building hurricane protection dikes.

A major part of levee cost is purchasing high quality clay, e.g., clay free of organic matter.

I am fundamentally opposed to proposed levee alignments that would enclose and destroy huge areas of coastal wetlands.* That being said, I am mystified why a virtually free source of levee clay is being ignored for justifiable levee projects, such as ring levees around population centers.

I’m talking, once again, about the humongous quantities of spent bauxite** (red mud) and gypsum waste that have been stockpiled along the lower river for many years. I first posted on this here over a year ago on September 14, 2009.

The public cannot possibly be better served by the perpetual useless storage of waste in the coastal setting, rather than usefully storing this material in linear structures called levees. In the face of the looming budget crises how can state officials continue to turn a blind eye on this concept, which has even been proposed by EPA Region 6?

Worldwide interest in the beneficial use of 80 million tons of red mud produced each year globally is increasing, as shown here and here.

*Especially the Morganza-to-the-Gulf project that would cost from $3-11 billion dollars – mostly for levee materials.

**Extensive chemical assays have shown that the spent bauxite stored long the lower Mississippi River is as benign as native clays from the Mississippi delta, having been treated to neutralize its pH and to bind heavy metals. Such treatment distinguishes ‘our’ red mud from the toxic sludge recently released accidentally into the Danube River in Hungary.

Mother Nature and the Gulf of Mexico

Bill Mitsch, a coastal ecologist colleague from Ohio State University who has spent considerable time in Louisiana, wrote an important philosophical editorial on the response to the oil release in the Gulf of Mexico, just published in Ecological Engineering. Check it out here.

Whales and global carbon cycling

Graphic from Discovery News

Floating bacteria and algae in the surface waters of the world’s oceans use solar energy to convert CO2 into sugars. The rate at which this primary production occurs is limited by the concentration of chemical nutrients dissolved in the water, especially nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and iron. Nutrients are abundant in the bottom waters (benthic zone) but not in the euphotic zone where sunlight penetrates.

Now it turns out that whales bring nutrients from deep water when they surface to breathe – and poop. This post by Kieran Mulvaney from news.discovery.com describes recent research that documents this important but previously unrecognized role of marine mammals.

October 17

WSJ photo from AP

Sand berm wars continue (continued)

Yesterday’s coastal news du jour included a link to an article by Jeffrey Ball in the Wall Street Journal. As pointed out by an astute reader, reading the full article required subscribing to WSJ. Here’s the complete text of this important article, which describes finger-pointing among state officials and others re the slow pace of Governor Jindal’s sand berm project to ‘protect’ the Louisiana coast from oil escaping from the Macondo well blowout.

Louisiana has a suggestion for the contractors building a massive sand barrier along its coast: hurry up.

State officials are criticizing contractor Shaw Group Inc. and its subcontractors for not moving fast enough on the 40-mile berm project. The about $360 million bill is being paid by BP PLC, the owner of the well that caused the Gulf oil spill.

Shaw and its contractors “haven’t delivered what they promised,” Garret Graves, chairman of Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said in an interview.

Upset with slow progress on constructing a sand berm along the Louisiana coast and lacking federal approval for expansion, officials and contractors are blaming each other for delays.

The project involves dredging sand from the Gulf floor to build miles of sand berms along the Louisiana coast. It’s the single-biggest public-works project launched in response to the BP oil-well disaster. The state awarded the contract to coordinate the dredging to a unit of Shaw, a global construction firm based in Baton Rouge, La., and Shaw hired several dredging firms to do the construction.

Shaw is “very proud of its performance” on the berm project, a spokeswoman said. She cited bad weather and changing federal requirements as reasons for the project’s delay.

Terrence “Rock” Salt, the U.S. Army’s deputy assistant secretary overseeing the Corps of Engineers’ water-resource policy, said that whatever changes the federal government made to the requirements for the original 40-mile berm project were done in an effort to help the state. “We were trying to accommodate the circumstances that they were dealing with,” he said.

In May, Louisiana asked for federal permission to cover roughly 100 miles along the coast, saying it was needed to protect against any additional oil coming ashore. Federal officials approved only a 40-mile stretch. Then, in early July, the state again requested approval. But last week, the state said it was putting its expansion request on hold due to continued federal opposition.

Several weeks ago, federal officials declined to let Louisiana dredge sand for the berms from a particular spot in the Gulf that state officials said was critical to the economic viability of the expansion. One reason federal officials cited for opposing the work was that the BP well hasn’t been spewing oil since July 15. Fed officials also argued that, in part because construction has proceeded slowly, the berms haven’t blocked large amounts of oil.

Louisiana officials say the berms have blocked at least several hundred barrels of oil and that they still are needed to protect the coast from oil that many scientists say remains under the Gulf’s surface. If the project had moved along faster, it “could have put us in a different posture than we’re in today,” said Mr. Graves.

Shaw and the state say they officially measure the amount of sand moved and two other factors to gauge progress. According to that mix, the project is now 65% complete.

The sand berms have been controversial from the start. Federal officials repeatedly have criticized the project, saying it hasn’t collected much oil and that it threatens environmental harm, such as intensifying erosion and killing sea turtles.

The project also ran into unforeseen problems. When Hurricane Alex struck Louisiana in early July, it ate away at sections of the berm under construction.

Mr. Graves, the Louisiana official, agreed inclement weather and changing permit requirements were factors. But he also said Shaw and the dredging companies it hired could have picked up the pace had they employed foreign dredgers with more-powerful equipment.

The sand-berm project originally was proposed by contractors from the Netherlands, a country that dominates the global dredging industry. Instead, Shaw and its U.S. dredging subcontractors got the job. Hiring foreign dredgers would have required a waiver from federal law, Mr. Graves said. Louisiana officials asked Shaw several times since the spill started whether it wanted to hire more-powerful foreign dredgers to augment the weaker U.S. ones, but were told the foreign equipment wasn’t necessary, Mr. Graves said.

The Shaw spokeswoman said the company “moved forward with a commitment from the U.S. dredge industry that this project could be achieved with existing U.S. equipment.”

William Hanson, an executive at Oak Brook, Ill.-based dredger Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co., said “project details have changed almost daily,” and that Louisiana and Shaw “have done a great job managing an unprecedented project and we have done a great job responding.”

C.F. Bean LLC, of Belle Chasse, La., another dredging contractor, referred questions to Shaw and to the Dredging Contractors of America, the dredging industry’s trade group.

Barry Holliday, executive director of the Dredging Contractors of America, disputed the notion that bigger foreign dredges could have built the berms any faster than the U.S. fleet.

“Everything about this job was very sensitive,” he said, citing the government’s environmental concerns. “Operationally it would have been a nightmare” to have bigger foreign dredges working in the area, he said.

Louisianans apparently don’t give a care about saving energy.

Amy Wold wrote a story in today’s The Advocate about the very low rank of Louisiana in terms of the concern of its citizens about energy efficiency.

Nevada's Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge, constructed for $240 million with the help and support of Senator Harry Reid

October 16

Hoover Dam bypass bridge completed for $240 million

The recently-completed bypass bridge around Hoover Dam, now being hailed as an engineering marvel, took nine years, cost $240 million and will likely last for a very long time, according to a recent article in HuffingtonPost. Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) takes justifiable pride at the completion of this bridge.  He’s not very popular in his home state and is running the reelection battle of his life with Tea Party supported Sharron Angle, who apparently doesn’t believe in any government investment in infrastructure.

No matter your philosophy of government or whether you’re a fiscal conservative or not, compare the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge investment to the short term investment in coastal ‘sand castles’ promoted by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal – at a much higher cost. A feature post on this subject is contemplated. In the meantime, speaking of sand berms…

David Vitter promotes sand berms and rocks in tidal passes – and accepts funding to suppress evidence of climate change

Louisiana’s sitting junior Senator and Senate reelection candidate David Vitter (R-Louisiana) was given five minutes of air time on Baton Rouge NPR affiliate WRKF-FM on October 14, during which he extolled the use of sand barriers and rocks in Louisiana tidal passes to keep out BP oil. Vitter’s support for such scientifically discredited practices with coastal implications is not surprising, given his consistently anti-science record.

You see, he’s also a vociferous climate change denier, and his campaign war chest benefits because of his opposition to any and all energy-related legislation that could prolong the life of the Mississippi River delta by slowing global warming. Lucia Graves reported in HuffingtonPost on October 14 that a handful of US Senators and Senate candidates are taking campaign funds from oil and coal giants Koch Industries ($16,750) and Murray Energy ($17,378). Other Senators or Senate aspirants whose top contributors include these two companies are global warming deniers James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), John Hoeven (R – N.D), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania).

During a conservative radio talk show interview last year Vitter said that climate change evidence is often ridiculous pseudo-science garbage.

In today’s The Times-Picayune Jan Moller reported that David Vitter’s war chest is about double that of his Senate candidate opponent Congressman Charlie Melancon (D-Louisiana). Coincidence, or the behind-the-scenes result of well-funded opposition to progressive energy legislation that would help save south Louisiana?

Sand berm wars continue!

Photo from the Wall Street Journal

A close friend, who didn’t authorize the use of her well known name, forwarded this smokin’ sand berm article by Jeffrey Ball from the Wall Street Journal. Ball describes a circular firing squad of finger pointing that the controversial $360 million Sand Berm Project has generated. This is gratifying stuff for those of us who have been fighting the ‘sand berm wars’ since May.

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  1. Jim good response concerning Corps compliance with the Federal Coastal Zone Management Act. The Federations letter does a diservice to readers if it leads people to believe that the Corps is in violation of state law. The Federal government is not bound to comply with state or local laws, so it is a blatant mistatment to tell readers that the Corps is in violation of state law.

    I challange DNR to publicly provide proof of thier claim that the Corps dredging action has caused coastal erosion or deprived the areas mentioned of water and sediment. I am not supporting the Cors action, but I would like to see that DNR claims are based upon real data and not someone at the state level making an observation.

    • Kelly Haggar says:

      As to the law, I’m thinking you have the Art VI supremacy clause in mind. However, the Coastal Zone Management Act allows states to effectively exercise a veto over any federal (more properly “national”) action within its coastal zone by determining the proposed action is inconsistent with that state’s plan. There are two bypass methods by which the federal/national act may nonetheless proceed. First, the Sec Defense may say the action is required for national defense. Second, after a hearing, the Sec Commerce may determine that the action IS consistent after all.

      Don’t feel bad; I’ve seen several Corps employees make the same mistake.

      As to the merits, if the state has the goods it ought to prevail if the Corps choses to go the hearing route.

  2. Jim Rives says:

    There are no state regulations on federal consistency in the LCRP. Actually, it would be more proper to state that the Corps is not complying with federal regulations as found in 15 CFR 930.32(a)(2), because the state has taken the position that the Corps is not following those rules as established under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act.

    Federally approved state coastal management programs have the authority to review federal actions pursuant to federal law, because essentially such states are implementing federal law through their programs.

  3. Very disappointing bungle by the TP, which has otherwise conducted themselves well during an event marked by out of control emotions in La (unlike WWL and a number of other radio stations, which became propoganda outlets for the Governor and the oil industry.) At least the TP has corrected themselves – something the broadcast media won’t do.

  4. Too bad The New York Times did not dig a littel deeper and uncover the true facts about the sand berms. $240 million spent on building ten miles of sand berm that have collect little to no oil.
    Oh the Governors staff can tell you all the gallons of oily water they have sucked up and the pounds of oily debries, but in reality the numbers do not beging to justify the millions spent; the loss of sand that could have been used for true barrier island renourishment projects; or years that the Governors berm stunt has set back the federal planning effort for the LCA projects being submitted to Congress in December (the Governors little stunt has changed the existing conditions that were used to formulate the plans for the LCA projects, Federal law requires that the plans be reformulated becasue the existing conditions have changed).

  5. The issue with the Governor opening the diversions is that they caused millions in economic damage to oyster beds. Governor actions were his own and were in direct opposition to what science (Corps ERDC Models) and common sense. I.e. 10,000 cfs from each diversion would not cause enought flow more then a few miles south to prevent any oil from comong inland at the coast.
    People are going to expect BP to pay for the damaged caused by the Governors actions. That should not be allowed to occur since BP had nothing to do with the opening of the diversions. The Governor should be the one on the hook to pay for damages including the economic impacts to the Oysterman. Maybe the good Governor could pay for those damages out of his out of state campain war chest.

  6. It is my understanding tha the Corps has looked at Bauxide and Gypsum for levee construction. The issue of heavy metals, high PH, and possible other contaminants in the Baxuide did not lend themselves to using the material.

    Gypsum has a low level of radioactivity that makes it unsuitable to put in levees that may be used by humans.

    Also there is PR issue with using a material that is radioactive or contaminated that if breached would spread around the flooded area. Not saying this is real issue, just on that causes massive PR issues for the federal government.

  7. So the state is blaming the contractors for its own incompetence – very good form. But in today’s media world, blatant dishonesty usually works. The Anderson Coopers of the media don’t know enough to ask whether basic premises – such as the idea that a massive sand wall (part of it in the open Gulf) could be built quickly enough to hold back a significant amount of highly mobile oil in a dynamic sea – have any validity. The WSJ story confirms what has been obvious to those who bothered to look – the state had no idea what it was doing, and has been engaged in damage control since.

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