The ‘Great Jindini’ aims to transmogrify sand berms into barrier shorelines!
by Len Bahr, PhD*
Verb: Transform, esp. in a surprising or magical manner.
As noted in the November 2 coastal news du jour, Governor Jindal has successfully masterminded an agreement with BP that allows the state to reprogram $140 million in unspent compensation funding for the Macondo well blowout. The money is part of a $360 million stipend that the governor arm-wrestled from BP specifically to construct a temporary sand berm project conceived as a barrier to intercept encroaching oil.
Given the extravagant cost and snail’s pace of progress of the original project, which probably wouldn’t have outlasted a single typical hurricane season, the governor may have found a way to convert a Keystone Cops effort into a credible keystone coastal project. May is the key word here.
Official details of the agreement to reprogram the sand berm funds are shown in the following quotes from a November 1 press release from the governor’s office:
The Governor provided an update on the $360 million sand berm project that was launched to protect Louisiana’s coastal areas from the oil spill. To date, nearly 17 million cubic yards of sand has been dredged. This includes over 12 million cubic yards of sediment that was dredged from the Mississippi River and placed in the barrier island chains. To put that in perspective, Louisiana loses a football field of land every 38 minutes or about 13,800 football fields a year. Thus far, the dredging project has moved enough material with these sand berms to pile one foot of sand on over 12,100 football fields.
Over 10 miles of sand berm have been built and two more berm segments (W8 and W10) are scheduled to be completed within the next two weeks. To date, about 8.5 million cubic yards of material has been pumped to the islands and there are millions more cubic yards of sand stockpiled in the re-handling area now for berms and barrier island restoration.
As part of BP’s agreement with the state for the sand berm project, there is $140 million in remaining funding. The Governor said that as the state moves forward in discussing damages and recovery funding with BP, the state has been working on plans to fortify the temporary sand berms for oil protection so that they become barrier islands that both block oil and help to restore and protect Louisiana’s coast.
Governor Jindal announced an agreement to commit up to $100 million of the remaining sand berm funding to convert the sand berms into Louisiana’s historic barrier islands that have eroded. The other $40 million in remaining berm funds will be dedicated to berm construction, stabilization, environmental support and other compliance costs associated with the berm work.
The Governor noted that fortifying these sand berms for oil protection by building them into barrier islands is especially important now that today (Nov. 1) marks the end of hurricane season and there is time to strengthen these berm projects to protect Louisiana against the threat of submerged oil before the next hurricane season.
Under this agreement, up to $100 million of the remaining berm funds will be dedicated to dredge and pump sand on both the front and back sides of the berms and vegetation to support the long-term restoration and sustainability of Louisiana’s barrier islands. On the west side of the river, engineers are currently working on barrier island restoration plans for Shell, Pelican and Scofield barrier islands. These are also known as the W-8, W-9 and W-10 berms. About two weeks ago, the state began working with the Army Corps of Engineers on appropriate permits to restore these islands. The state is also working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop a plan to conduct restoration projects on the Chandeleur Islands in the vicinity of the E-4 berm on the east side of the river.
Additionally, the state is working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to expedite the expenditure of about $40 million in state and federal Coastal Wetlands Planning Protection and Restoration Act funds to restore barrier islands on the west side of the river – which creates a total $180 million investment in continued coastal restoration work that is essential to protecting Louisiana’s inlands from the threat of submerged oil that continues to be reported below the surface.
Governor Jindal said that the sand berm project constructed during the oil spill response stage combined now with fortification of the berms will total the largest barrier island restoration project in Louisiana history.
Details on project ‘accomplishments’ listed in this official document bear close scrutiny. For example, according to the numbers provided, 8.5 million cubic yards of sand have been dredged and pumped and an unspecified additional ‘millions’ of cubic yards of sand have been stockpiled. Let’s say that a total of ten million cubic yards of sand have been ‘handled,’ at a cost of $220 million – that’s $22 dollars/cubic yard.
In just about three minutes on the web I found sand that would be delivered right to my backyard for $19/yard if I ordered at least 18 yards. Now imagine the relatively modest unit cost for 10 million yards of sand barged downriver to the coast – without dredging holes in the delta we’re trying to save.
On the other hand, local dredging interests would perhaps not have lobbied the governor so hard for a project that involved importing sand. Dare I mention once more that much of the material used to build berms/levees is available free of charge in the form of spent bauxite and gypsum waste.
Having been a consistent critic of the governor’s sand berm project since it was first announced in May I now feel obliged to offer my two cent’s worth on the announced agreement to reprogram the funds and rethink the goals. Three points are in order:
1) For twenty years I have supported the massive comprehensive restoration of the vestigial remnants of Louisiana’s formerly robust barrier shoreline system.
2) A rejuvenated barrier shoreline system would provide people protection from storm surge, critical habitat and other ecosystem services…but it would not survive for thirty years at the edge of a sinking coast, at least not without massive changes in river management.
3) Until now the governor’s office has consistently and steadfastly ignored the technical expertise that has been ready, willing and able to provide the best advice possible on the most effective way to invest our limited sand resources, some of which have already been squandered.
In summary, I applaud the above agreement with BP to convert a temporary and ill-conceived project into state-of-the-art coastal protection and restoration…with one critical caveat. Comprehensive barrier shoreline restoration cannot be credible unless it is designed and overseen by an independent team of geophysicists, sedimentologists, river scientists and coastal engineers. This team should be recruited post haste.
*Founding editor firstname.lastname@example.org