subscribe: Posts | Comments

December 2011 Coastal Scuttlebutt (cont.)

17 comments

This coastal minipost is typically updated daily by noon CST

DECEMBER THIRTY-FIRST

Missed messages in 2011

Worst prediction and poorest judgment of risk in 2011

On this the final day of 2011 I was struck by news accounts that point up the propensity of state officials to either miss the handwriting on the wall or to draw faulty conclusions about coastal risk.

On one hand they predict that Barack Obama wants to turn off the lights on offshore drilling platforms. On the other hand they blissfully ignore the flashing red lights that signal the approach of the Climate Change Clipper.

Both actions smack of a Louisiana form of political correctness. Let me explain.

Dr. Loren Scott, LSU energy expert

Record offshore drilling

Remember the dire predictions throughout the year from the preponderance of highly placed state folks* that the temporary post-Macondo moratorium on deep water drilling in the gulf would drive Big Oil out of the Gulf forever? Good call, you guys.

Check out this report carried on last night’s news on WAFB-TV 9 in Baton Rouge, showing record drilling activity in the Gulf.

Record shattering weather stats

Dr. Barry Keim, PhD., LSU climate authority

Salient statistics on the Louisiana climate in 2011 were summarized by state climatologist Dr. Barry Keim, as reported here by Mark Schleifstein with The Times-Picayune and here by Amy Wold with The Advocate. Here are some key quotes compiled from the two articles:

“The U.S. Drought Monitor comes out with a map once a week, and I’ve flipped through all 52 weeks, and there was drought somewhere in the state every single week of the year,” Keim said. “It reached its peak on June 21st, when 65 percent of the state was in ‘exceptional drought,’ which is the worst classification.”

Drought conditions are expected to continue this winter and spring, thanks to conditions that are expected to be warmer and drier than normal, Keim said. The problem is La Nina, a climate pattern caused by colder-than-normal surface water temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean, he said.

With the state’s record drought conditions, it’s no surprise that the year’s third-biggest weather story was unexpectedly warm temperatures. Louisiana had the hottest summer on record, with temperatures averaging 85 degrees, nearly 4 degrees above the long-term average, based on records going back to 1895.

2011 was the fourth-hottest summer on record for any state in the nation, with Texas and Oklahoma setting records this year for the top two spots, Keim said. Nationwide, it was the second-warmest summer on record, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

“Drought is something that we can’t just shake loose from,” he said. With the continuing La Niña conditions, it’s anticipated that the remainder of the winter and early spring will continue the same pattern of warmer and drier weather. So far, this has been the sixth-driest year on record since 1895 and the driest since 1963.

…This is the first time since records started being kept in 1851 that the U.S. has gone six straight years without a major hurricane — category 3 or higher — to hit its coastlines, Keim said.

Not only was Louisiana drier than normal, but it was also one of the warmest summers. Keim said summer 2011 was the hottest on record for the state with an average temperature of 85 degrees. In Shreveport, the National Weather Service recorded 62 days of at or above 100 degrees, he said.

Another big weather event this year occurred primarily in north Louisiana with a tornado outbreak April 24 and April 25. Twenty tornados were recorded, with two being classified as EF2 with windspeeds of between 111 mph and 135 mph.

Overall, the statewide average temperature was 69 degrees for the year compared with the 30-year, long-term average of 67 degrees. That’s to be expected because the state has been in La Niña conditions that bring warmer and drier weather to the South.

Average precipitation for the state was 43 inches, much lower than the 30-year average of 60 inches, he said.

I’m frankly flabbergasted that nowhere in either article is Dr. Keim quoted as connecting the extreme weather records with climate change and global warming.

I resolve to have a wonderful 2012, as should you. I also resolve to take everything that comes out of the mouth of a state official with a huge grain of salt!

*Including Governor Jindal and conservative economist Dr. Loren Scott.

DECEMBER THIRTIETH

Street map and wreck photo from the Times-Picayune

Could the fatal wreck in eastern New Orleans be blamed on the Zombie fire?

In today’s The Times-Picayune Danny Monteverde described the grisly scene at the fatal forty-car pileup yesterday morning that occurred during intense ‘fog’ conditions. The following quote from the article notes the proximity of the fatal wreck to a chronic smoldering ‘marsh’ fire, which resisted heroic efforts to extinguish it during the late summer and fall.

The reek of fuel and smoke, reminiscent of the marsh fire that burned nearby for much of the summer and continues to smolder, filled the air.

The accident site and fire location are both shown on the accompanying graphic.

On September 11 I posted an essay about the fire that Monteverde refers to in which I disagreed with repeated media descriptions of this smelly smoldering smudge pot site in eastern New Orleans as a marsh fire…which is grossly unfair to coastal wetlands. This chronic burn zone was once healthy coastal wetland that was turned into a scrubby dry wasteland by surrounding it with levees and continuously pumping the water out.

Mother Nature would extinguish what I call the ‘ENOLA Zombie Fire’ if the decision were made to turn off the pumps, break a hole in the levee and turn the site into a lake.

I don’t know whether or not these fatalities were the consequence of smoke from the zombie fire, but if so this would be another example of how destroying coastal wetlands increases the riskiness of life in America’s Delta.

DECEMBER TWENTY-NINTH

Flagship Party Barge

We're number one!

It’s traditional in late December to review and reflect on the dying year. From a coastal standpoint, the best news was that a very active hurricane season spared the northern gulf.

Contrasting news stories describe LSU with an undefeated football team rolling in dough and an underfunded scholastic team begging for crumbs.

Everyone in Louisiana with a pulse knows that the M-B Superdome will soon be transformed into the virtual ballroom of the state’s flagship university party barge. Nosebleed section tickets to the BCS game are now going for well over $1,000 but our governor and his legislative serfs will have far nicer seats.

The mood in the engine room* of the LSU vessel must be considerably darker, as 40 academic posts and $8million were just cut by the strapped state administration. What if these were the people and pumps needed to keep the ship afloat?

While the party on the dance floor unfolds on this ‘unsinkable’ vessel, the intellectual pride of the state is plowing its way through the dark sea of ignorance, poverty, and violent crime toward a giant iceberg of coastal calamity.

Here’s a quotes from an editorial in today’s The Advocate titled LSU cuts hurt academics:

LSU’s teaching and research mission just got a lot harder because of an $8 million cut in spending for the Baton Rouge campus. The reduction in funding is the latest of several budget cuts that have affected LSU and other public colleges and universities in Louisiana in recent years as the sate faces drops in revenues.

My sense of coastal foreboding is clearly not shared by the governor and the legislators who will be cheering for LSU from seats their constituents would kill for. They glibly drove the state bus into a fiscal ditch on a cut tax joyride, demonstrating an amazing disconnect between what they say and what they do to right the state and save some of the coast.

If you believe as I do that the future of Louisiana is absolutely connected with and dependent on the fate of America’s Delta we should be at least as focused on listening to our coastal scientists as recruiting high school standout Gunner Kiel to replace Jordan Jefferson.

* Chancellor Martin’s office.

DECEMBER TWENTY-EIGHTH

Nucor news once again

Show me a better site for a modest river diversion project into the Pontchartrain Basin.

On September 22, 2010 I posted a feature article on the plans by the Nucor Corporation of Charlotte, NC to construct a major iron processing facility on the Mississippi River near Convent. Nucor promotes itself as the largest recycler of steel in the U.S., implying an environmental interest.

The property occupies the ideal site from which to convey river water into the dying coastal forests around Lake Maurepas. Therefore I proposed that the state ask Nucor for permission to construct a small conveyance channel across company property to accomplish that worthy goal.

So far this proposal has received only marginal interest…but hope breeds eternal. On December 26 David J. Mitchell reported in The Advocate on pre-construction site preparation by Nucor so I submitted the following text as a letter to the editor of The Advocate, in response to Mitchell’s article. Here’s the text of my letter, which may or may not be published:

Yesterday The Advocate carried a front-page story by David J. Mitchell describing activities underway to prepare the site for a massive iron manufacturing complex to be built on the east bank of the Mississippi River just downstream from the Sunshine Bridge.

The Nucor Corporation from Charlotte, NC acquired rights to this property because of its prime location with respect to deep draft river access for ore imports and product exports, and local sources of electricity, fuel, chemicals and cooling water. Nucor officials doubtless also recognized that the Department of Economic Development (DED) was positively giddy to agree to lucrative tax incentives…and lax state restrictions on air quality.

During the many months since the Nucor project was proposed, no one to my knowledge has broached what Louisiana will receive (other than jobs) in exchange for foregoing badly needed tax revenues and increasing our already huge industrial carbon footprint.

In terms of jobs, apparently no one from DED has requested that local residents, who will first breathe Nucor exhaust emissions, should also be first in line for training and hiring.

Despite the above, there is a win-win way for Nucor to provide a long-term gift to the state, at no cost to the company, a public relations boon and a coastal legacy that money couldn’t buy.

The levee behind which the plant will be built has doomed the Manchac swamps surrounding Lake Maurepas, by cutting off all Spring river flooding. It just so happens that the plant site occupies the perfect hydrologic location from which to convey river water through the levee and about 3 miles across the property to nourish and help save these dying swamps.

I suspect that Nucor officials would seriously entertain a state request to grant an easement for a gated conveyance channel, especially if they knew that Nucor could contribute meaningfully to saving our shrinking coastal ecosystem. 

DECEMBER TWENTY-SEVENTH

Mad Men of NORAD (photo from Dr. Strangelove)

Mad Men v Bird Men…Advanced warning of nuclear winter and/or global warming

Advanced warning of global warming (photo of Darlene Eschete, president of the Terrebonne Bird Club, from the Daily Comet)

I grew up during the Cold War, in a booming post WWII economy that paid for the construction of two major systems designed to protect us from the USSR. One was Eisenhower’s interstate highway network that would supposedly allow the evacuation of major cities under nuclear attack (what a joke). The other was a government policy known as Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) based on a doomsday machine of first H-bombs on B-52 bombers, then on land based ICBMs in North Dakota and now on Polaris submarines constantly circling the world ocean.

As a fan of the film Dr. Strangelove I knew, but was not the least bit reassured by MAD, or the fact that my government was operating the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which was (and presumably still is) a bunker-based radar network to monitor the skies over Canada and the Arctic region, looking for a telltale cloud of little white blips moving over the North Pole that would justify the massive launch of American weapons. This would be global suicide that would result in the onset of a nuclear winter…the penultimate way to halt global warming.

Although the USSR collapsed in the eighties NORAD still remains…like most government programs. Nevertheless, the only time that NORAD makes the news is on Christmas Eve, when Santa Claus heads south from the North Pole.

I flashed on NORAD when I read this article by Nikki Buskey in The Daily Comet about another advanced warning system, aimed to protect us from misinformation, and other forms of non-missile madness. Each December the National Audubon Society and the scientific community carry out the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) in all fifty states and territories. The CBC is already underway and will be completed on January 5.

The Louisiana effort includes hundreds of volunteers and provides invaluable coastal data…advanced warning of climate change, which could theoretically be reversed…as opposed to nuclear winter. Louisiana’s CBC documents the ecological importance of the Bayou State in general and coastal Louisiana in particular as a critical fuel stop for northward migrating birds.

This year the Louisiana CBC is manning 28 monitoring locations or circles in Louisiana, most of which are in the coastal region. Among the names of the leaders of these circles I noted the names of three coastal colleagues: David Muth, Marty Floyd and Chris Brantley.

Check out this link for more information about the Louisiana CBC and this one if you’d really like to get involved.

DECEMBER TWENTY-SIXTH

Live oaks and river deltas*

River deltas, tree branches and hurricanes

A few days ago I finished reading a book by James Glieck on Chaos Theory, of which my mathematics-challenged mind was able to comprehend perhaps a third. I picked up this book because of my life-long interest in the co-evolution of life forms and the non-living systems on which they co-depend. Much of the book involves repeated patterns at nested scales that abound in both living and non-living systems.

I’m fascinated by the fact that, even as the universe rushes headlong toward its ultimate entropic doom, random natural processes on Earth and elsewhere form pockets of wondrously complex organization among living and non-living entities…including river deltas.

In 1975 the brilliant mathematician/philosopher/engineer Benoit Mandelbrot (1924-2010) coined the term ‘fractal’ to describe this phenomenon. Fractal systems include the dendritic process of bifurcating distributaries that create river deltas, blood vessels that sustain living organisms and tree branches that optimize photosynthesis…and provide resistance to hurricane stress.

This morning by coincidence on NPR’s Morning Edition science reporter Joe Palca described a recent study of tree branching as nature’s way of giving trees the ability to withstand high winds characteristic of hurricanes. This reminded me of the mature live oak trees in Waveland Mississippi that survived Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when most man-made structures were obliterated.

Leonardo da Vinci described this pattern 500 years ago, 350 years before Charles Darwin articulated the fractal process of natural selection, which created the tree of life. Hmm. This suggests a feature post on Coastal Chaos. In the meantime check out Palco’s piece.

*Click here for the source of the Mississippi River delta graphic.

DECEMBER TWENTY-FIFTH

Contrasting weather trends

As Christmas dawns in Baton Rouge almost seven days still remain for weather-related calamities westward to the Greenwich Meridian. I say this having just read a fascinating article by Justin Gillis in The New York Times on an ominous recent trend of increasing world-wide extreme weather events.

The first 359 days of 2011 set an all-time American record for the number and economic cost of extreme weather events. Gillis described the implications of this record…in terms of both science and politics. He reported that three times more floods, droughts, fires and tornadoes than normal occurred in 2011, producing damages of over $50 billion.

This trend conforms with predictions by climate scientists, who have long held that the human-induced rise in greenhouse gases would be accompanied, not just by global warming, but by increasing weather extremes. Ironically, the rising trend in weather extremes flies in the face of a decreasing belief in climate science on the part of Americans. Congress is cutting research funding for weather monitoring critical to allow people to better cope with the risk. Here are some telling quotes from Gillis’ article:

A typical year in this country features three or four weather disasters whose costs exceed $1 billion each. But this year, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has tallied a dozen such events, including wildfires in the Southwest, floods in multiple regions of the country and a deadly spring tornado season. And the agency has not finished counting. The final costs are certain to exceed $50 billion.

“I’ve been a meteorologist 30 years and never seen a year that comes close to matching 2011 for the number of astounding, extreme weather events,” Jeffrey Masters, a co-founder of the popular Web site Weather Underground, said last month. “Looking back in the historical record, which goes back to the late 1800s, I can’t find anything that compares, either.”

This year, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tried to push through a reorganization that would have provided better climate forecasts to businesses, citizens and local governments, Republicans in the House of Representatives blocked it.

Anyhow, Merry Christmas, one and all!

DECEMBER TWENTY-FOURTH

Daily readers

As shown in the accompanying graph and tabular data, weekends and particularly Saturdays typically attract the lowest daily readership for LaCoastPost. In addition, many loyal readers are doubtless distracted by the holiday season and my morning media scan didn’t result in any notable coastal stories.

Thus today I’m taking a short holiday break to spend more time on household duties and to spend more time on feature posts…including the sequel to the post Who’s fooling whom about saving the coast?

Feliz Navidad!



DECEMBER TWENTY-THIRD

Here's how to effectively save the coast!

Boy is my face red

Yesterday’s mini-post (scroll down) described my curiosity about why Sen. Mary Landrieu wrote to the Corps of Engineers opposing the adoption of the so-called Modified Charleston Method. I discovered that the MCM is a technique under consideration by the federal agencies involved in wetland permitting under the Clean Water Act to improve the measurement of the environmental impacts of projects that damage wetlands.

I assumed that our senior senator was chiding the corps for not coordinating its responsibilities for wetland permitting and coastal protection/restoration. A colleague who could read between the lines, however, emailed the following (edited) comments that exposed my gross naivete:*

The upshot of the controversy over the MCM is that when it’s adopted by the corps, MORE mitigation will be required for impacted wetlands than is currently the case. One would have to be incredibly naive to think that Landrieu is in favor of linking restoration and permitting. What I read into her letter is that coastal permitting should let coastal protection and restoration do its thing unhampered. 

Bear in mind that the people who want to build all of these levee projects are against having to mitigate for the wetland impacts associated with them. They argue that (1) the projects will be self-mitigating (i.e., protecting wetlands with levees, which is BULLSHIT); and (2) the cost of mitigation will make the projects too expensive to build. I think that more mitigation should be required than is presently the case, e.g., Some experts say that the mitigation formula used by the state requires far less mitigation than the damage caused by the project.

For most minor activities the corps allows the use of the state methodology, pursuant to the Corps’ Programmatic General Permits. This has been a big problem for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

As for the concept of the state’s coastal regulatory and restoration programs being aligned…that was tried and it failed. The restoration program folks don’t like being associated with the regulation headaches. Taking responsibility for their actions is not exactly their coastal forte. The OCPR fiercely contested virtually any sort of regulatory constraint during the oil catastrophe and put lots of pressure on the state regulatory folks to back off.

If the regulatory and restoration functions were joined again as you suggest, it would be like the old days when important regulatory issues associated with restoration projects did not survive weekly executive meetings at DNR…because the Assistant Secretary always squelched them.

The state opposed trying to block tidal passes with rocks as a response to the blowout…not because it was technically impossible and ecologically destructive…but because the rocks would have to be removed when the oil danger had passed. No one wanted to pick up the beach barriers, either, but that requirement was put into every emergency permit to install them. 

*Scroll down to see posted comments that reflect the same insight.

DECEMBER TWENTY-SECOND 

Landrieu urges the corps to think holistically

A coastal colleague sent me the above letter from Senator Mary Landrieu to a Corps of Engineers Official in the New Orleans District Office. As you can read for yourself she urged the corps to reconsider using of the so-called Modified Charleston Method (MCM*) for calculating mitigation credits for permitted damage to coastal wetlands. Having never heard of MCM I skimmed the document and quickly got lost in a web of corps-speak.

My summary interpretation of Sen. Landrieu’s recommendation is shown in red. If I misread the letter, never mind!

*My tolerance for bureaucratic jargon is extremely limited so I’d appreciate comments from regulatory folks on the meaning and implications of MCM.

DECEMBER TWENTY-FIRST

Bobby and Rick, presidential pals in Iowa.

Coastal ignorance on public display 

I obviously view the 2012 presidential campaign through coastal-colored glasses. IMHO the next four years is make-it-or-break-it time for America’s Delta and whoever sits in the Oval Office will largely determine our long term fate.

Therefore, I put aside a half-completed mini-post for today, upon reading this suitably sardonic commentary by James Gill in The Times-Picayune. Mr. Gill described a day on the campaign trail in Iowa, with Bobby Jindal speaking on behalf of Texas Governor Rick Perry. The imagery of Rick and his booster Bobby stumping for votes among evangelical pig farmers is priceless.

A few weeks ago I was seriously concerned about Rick Perry’s chances for the GOP nomination. Here’s a man who personifies the celebration of coastal ignorance.

He fruitlessly prayed for rain last summer, without acknowledging the human roots of the worst drought in his state’s history. He’s more familiar with biblical verses than the tidal range in Galveston. He can’t remember whether he most wants to eliminate the fundamental coastal roles of the EPA, the Department of Commerce…or was it Energy? Thankfully, his campaign has largely collapsed beyond Jindal’s help…although no one else in the GOP campaign roster gives me much coastal confidence either.

The question is why Bobby Jindal, who yesterday had to correct Perry in public on his proposed flat tax policy,* would associate himself with this dolt. Mr. Gill speculates about this issue in his holiday-appropriate column. Read it and pray for a return to coastal common sense!

*Here’s a quote from an article in today’s Politico:

Jindal came to Perry’s rescue in another way — earlier Tuesday during a back-and-forth between the Texas governor and a woman over the details of Perry’s optional 20 percent flat tax plan.

After Perry told the questioner her standard deduction would be eliminated under his flat tax, Jindal, seated in a chair behind the governor, said softly, “Rick, you actually keep a standard deduction in your flat tax.”

“Oh that’s right, matter of fact we raised it to $12,500 per family, I think. Thank you for correcting me on that governor, not that I ever make a mistake,” he said, drawing laughs. “It’s always good to have Bobby here to correct me.”

DECEMBER TWENTIETH

Jonathan H. Adler, Esq. Can you imagine this guy mucking around out in the field?

Federal wetland ‘protection’

My coastal career germinated in Maryland during the JFK/LBJ years, and took root in Louisiana during, by today’s standards, the radical liberal GOP administration of President Richard M. Nixon. That’s when ‘Green Power’ reached its American zenith and environmental protection was still considered a good thing. Speaking of federal environmental regulations and coastal issues…

A)  The rise of the Tea Party in 2010 coincided with the strongest opposition to environmental regulations that I have ever seen, which bodes extremely poorly for strengthening existing laws.

B)   The human-caused loss of 2,300 square miles of coastal wetlands in Louisiana could never be reversed or mitigated by any conceivable government restriction on future activities.

C)   The only way to significantly slow or halt the progressive coastal degradation of America’s Delta would involve the exact opposite of regulation, a full bore proactive restoration program to purchase land rights and let the river do its thing.*

In terms of relaxing the Corps’ stranglehold on the river, today’s coastal mini-post began as a tribute to the Great Rivers Partnership (GRP), a unique alliance between The Nature Conservancy** (TNC) and the U.S. Army Corps of Enginers re expanding the flood plain of the Mississippi River south of Cairo. This would restore critical wildlife habitat, improve water quality downstream and reduce FEMA-funded bailouts of future flood victims.

On November 16 a partnership agreement in the form of a memorandum of understanding was signed between TNC and the USACE to collaborate on expanding the flood plain of the lower Mississippi River. This agreement was further strengthened on December 9, as announced here by the USACE.

While researching this post I looked for information on the important but impotent history of federal regulation of wetlands and stumbled on this provocative essay titled Improving the environment by reducing the reach of federal regulation. This piece was written by a conservative legal expert on environmental law by the name of Jonathan H. Adler. Anyone familiar with the complicity of Louisiana in the destruction of its own coast should read this scholarly, but I think highly naive, opinion of how things would be better down here in the Bayou State with local wetland management. Here’s a quote:

(The states)…are also seeking to improve the quality of life for residents and to become more attractive to tourists. Economic growth is only one of many goals. Many states may lower the cost of regula- tions to attract business, but they also seek to maintain environmental quality to attract residents (taxpayers) and meet popular demand for a clean and healthy environment.

I was amazed that Mr. Adler cited cited Jon Kusler, head of the Association of State Wetland Managers, and Oliver Houck, who founded the Environmental Law Institute at Tulane University, to bolster his argument.

Oliver Houck, dressed for walking along the batture.

*I don’t believe in Santa Claus either.

**TNC is a national non-governmental organization (NGO) with an impressive reputation for seeking pragmatic solutions for the loss of critical habitat, including all types of wetlands. The modus operandi of the TNC has been to work within the existing system, using the carrot of cooption rather than the stick of the lawsuit as the means to its end.

DECEMBER NINETEENTH

Both images from the USACE

Coastal hurricane protection reaches $200 billion…restoration is extra!

Circumstances* beyond my control put today’s mini-post two hours past my self-imposed high noon deadline. I apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused both faithful and pagan readers of LaCoastPost.

In addition to writing new laws and making sausage, a third process that would probably turn the stomach of most observers goes on every day at Corps of Engineers headquarters on Leake Avenue in New Orleans. I’m referring to the never ending revision of plans to protect southeast Louisiana from flooding.

Today I call your attention to this power point presentation on one iteration of this opaque process. I don’t know when, where or to whom this lecture was presented but I’m assuming that it’s reasonably current. Neither do I know the author and presenter (Marti Lucore, PMP)** but I was somewhat taken aback by two ‘power points’ shown on his/her slides.

The cost to protect and restore America’s Delta has been quoted by state officials at from $100-150 billion but this is the first time I’ve seen an estimate of $200 billion…not for the entire package of protection and restoration…but just to build levees and gates! At the current 65/35 ratio of federal/state funding this should raise a few eyebrows at the Governor’s Office. Whatever are they smoking on Leake Avenue?

Equally amazing is that the bank-busting total price tag of $200 billion may be a low ball figure, because it includes a ‘modest’ $1 billion estimate for one of its most ambitious and ill-conceived elements. Of course I’m thinking of the Morganza-to-the-Gulf project,*** which is a very high priority for Governor Jindal and first in line for funding…but with nor realistic source in sight.

*Including a radical change in the topic!

**It took some effort to discover that PMP stands for ‘project manager professional,’ which wasn’t an option when I was in school.

***This project had previously been estimated by the corps at $11 billion but that figure has disappeared from the web.

DECEMBER EIGHTEENTH

Len Bahr arrested for opposing sand berms?

Len Bahr’s arrest may have been somewhat exaggerated

On Thursday, December 15 The Advocate published a letter from yours truly that was critical of the Jindal-Nungesser $251 million BP sand berms.

I searched unsuccessfully on the newspaper’s web site in order to post a link to my letter. Then I typed in ‘Len Bahr’ and stumbled onto an intriguing notice about the ‘government arrest*’ of someone by the name of Len Bahr at my home address…5544 Melrose Blvd., Baton Rouge.

Naturally, I was intrigued, although not quite enough to set up an account with this search engine ‘service.’ Could it be that some of the targets of my sand berm criticism have spread the rumor of my arrest, hoping that my digital pen would run out of ink in the ‘Graybar Hotel?’

Anyhow, here’s the full text of the letter:

The Sunday Advocate featured a cover story by Amy Wold, who described a successful outcome for one of the most contentious and expensive coastal projects ever undertaken in the 20-year history of coastal restoration in Louisiana. The project in question involved constructing temporary emergency sand berm barriers to intercept oil from the Macondo well blowout. The sand berm concept was master-minded by Gov. Bobby Jindal and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, with strong backing from the dredging industry. These sand-berm boosters were contemptuous o anyone who criticized the project on technical grounds, or suggested less heroic responses to the threat of marsh oiling.

Rather than seeking advice and support from coastal experts and federal agency officials, Jindal and Nungesser persuaded BP to put $360 million worth of eggs into an ill-conceived sand-berm basket. I contend that with the enthusiastic support of the scientific and environmental communities, BP could have been cajoled into committing the same amount for legitimate shovel-ready barrier shoreline projects, not to trap oil but to extend the lifespan of the first line of defense against future storms.

Ten weeks after the well had been capped, the plug was pulled on the largely unfinished berm project. By then, $260 million had been squandered to dredge and transport 20 million cubic yards of sand (four Superdome equivalents) into four sand berm segments totaling less than 12 miles. These sand piles are now being redistributed by nature, with a very uncertain outcome.

It was truly disheartening to note that in her article, Wold exclusively cited the opinions of either tacit or avid sand-berm supporters while ignoring a plethora of delta experts who had suggested a different approach. Neither did she mention an ongoing quantitative assessment of the berm project by the U.S. Geological Survey.

LenBahr, coastal scientist, Baton Rouge   

*Is there another kind of arrest that doesn’t involve a government authority?

DECEMBER SEVENTEENTH

Val Marmillion stating the obvious.

America’s Wetland, another view.

Yesterday’s mini-post involved the America’s Wetland Foundation (AWF), a non-profit organization whose raison d’etre is to promote the need to reverse the trajectory of decline of the largest delta in North America. Val Marmillion, the founder of AWF, acknowledged on a December 15 radio interview with Jim Engster that the organization receives the majority of its operating budget from Shell and other global oil and gas companies.

This would explain the reluctance of AWF to acknowledge that from one third to over one half of the loss of ~2,000 square miles of coastal Louisiana since 1930 is the direct and indirect result of oil and gas operations, both on and offshore. My coastal rant was not intended as a universal indictment of AWF or its staff, however, many of whom I consider colleagues.

To its credit, AWF has unblinkingly confronted another elephant in the room, anthropogenic climate change. This is a very important position, which differs strongly from the attitude of almost all elected officials in the Bayou State, who refuse to acknowledge another huge human-caused impact on our delta, global warming.

The AWF has sponsored gatherings of coastal scientists conversant with the latest climatological research to focus on the vulnerability of the world’s deltas to climate change. Most notable was the Delta Dialogues held in New Orleans in 2010. This is an important accomplishment for which AWF deserves credit. Louisiana elected officials should take notice.

DECEMBER SIXTEENTH

Val Marmillion, creator of the America's Wetland Foundation, knows first hand that south Louisiana is getting wetter.

Jim Engster puts America’s Wetland folks on the hot seat.

Yesterday during his show on Baton Rouge NPR affiliate WRKF-FM Jim Engster carried a fascinating interview with an award winning public relations consultant and former chief of staff to former Senator John Breaux. Jim’s guest was Valsin Marmillion, who created the America’s Wetland Foundation (AWF), a non-profit organization that publicizes the tragic historic loss of more than 2,000 square miles of Louisiana’s coastal landscape since 1930.

The conversation with Marmillion followed on Engster’s interview on December 8 with well known Louisiana journalist John Hill, who for the last three years has worked for the AWF. That interview touched on the degree to which the oil and gas industry contributed to the coastal crisis that AWF publicizes. Mr. Hill downplayed the significance of that impact and hedged on the subject of financial support of AWS by the energy industry.

On December 15 Mr. Marmillion acknowledged that the foundation receives most of its financial support from oil and gas interests* but he strongly denied that the AWF message is influenced by those funds. He strongly advocates for a massive national bailout for our sinking coast…but just as staunchly opposes the suggestion that the energy industry should help pay the huge bill.

The late Governor Dave Treen and Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell both courageously and vainly proposed an energy processing tax to help pay for the enormous damage caused by the industry damage that will continue to go unfixed unless taxpayers pick up the tab (highly unlikely). It appears as though the only way that oil and gas interests will pay for any of their huge coastal footprint is through fines for accidents like the Macondo well blowout.

Ironically, yesterday’s interview with Mr. Marmillion was followed by a discussion with Southern Media Opinion Research pollster Bernie Pinsonat about a recent survey on statewide concerns that was commissioned by prominent Baton Rouge businessman and political activist Lane Grigsby. Among 601 Louisiana respondents, the unfolding coastal catastrophe apparently didn’t rank as a major problem.


*Check out this 2009 invitation to a gala AWF fund raising dinner called ‘A Toast to the Coast,’ which identifies its sponsors at that time. The name of the event contrasts starkly with ‘The Coast Is Toast,’ the sardonic phrase that’s familiar to some of the folks who toil in cubicles of the Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration.

DECEMBER FIFTEENTH

Why are we spending BP bucks to expand oyster production?

Last evening Guille Novelo and I shared a dozen raw oysters at Parrain’s Restaurant in Baton Rouge to celebrate the retirement of a senior official of the coastal management office of the Department of Natural Resources. The retiree was Terry Howie (incorrectly reported as Ed Britton) and we also talked to current or former long term coastal management officials Jim Rives, Greg Ducote, Bo Blackmon, Karl Morgan and Steve Chutz, Assistant Secretary of DNR. Jim Wilkins, from LSU Sea Grant was also there sharing the good will, as was Dugan Sabins with DEQ.

By coincidence, two top environmental officials in the Obama Administration and Governor Jindal’s coastal advisor, were also consuming Louisiana oysters yesterday, not with us but at Al Sunseri’s historic P&J Oyster Company in the French Quarter. Ken Salazar, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior; Rachel Jacobson, Acting Assistant Secretary of Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks; and Garret Graves from the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities had hosted a press conference to celebrate a major offshore oil and gas lease sale.

They also celebrated an agreement to spend $28 million BP bucks for small coastal projects in Louisiana. Mark Schleifstein reported on these projects in today’s The Times-Picayune, as did Amy Wold in a parallel article in today’s The Advocate.

As shown on the graphic from the T-P, the money is earmarked to infill and recreate over 100 acres of eroded brackish water marshes in Plaquemines Parish with dredged sediment; to spread a six inch layer of oyster cultch (shells and crushed limestone) on 850 acres of six oil-damaged public oyster seed grounds in several parishes; and to upgrade an existing oyster hatchery on Grand Isle. Over half of the money ($14.9 million) would be used for oyster projects.

As much as I love Louisiana oysters, I question the state decision to spend millions for single-purpose oyster projects that are targeted solely toward commercial production. I suspect that this decision was a gift from Gov. Jindal to commercial oyster producers to make up for his decision to open the Davis Pond and Caernarvon diversion structures during the oil well blowout…structures that were unfortunately not opened during the Great River Flood of 2011.

Oyster production in Louisiana goes through cycles and the BP disaster in 2010, followed by the Great River Flood of 2011 hit the commercial industry hard. Nevertheless, wild oysters in Louisiana have never been endangered. Limited money for coastal restoration oyster projects should be wisely spent, e.g., to build multi-purpose ’3-D’ oyster reef sanctuaries off limits to harvesting, to serve as coastal protection/restoration and to create natural hatcheries for oyster larvae.

Finally, the Hackberry Bay oyster ‘restoration’ project being celebrated yesterday would seem to be jeopardized by opportunistic use the Davis Pond Project as needed.

Be Sociable, Share!
Share/Save
  1. Hello, I think your blog might be having browser compatibility issues. When I look at your blog site in Firefox, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, superb blog!|

  2. Kelly Haggar says:

    Concerning types of deltas and what controls their growth, first see the AAPG slides (but note that there’s a lot of unappreciated deeper structural geology also playing a major, if not the controlling, role in the rise and fall of deltas). See:

    http://www.searchanddiscovery.com/documents/2010/40598suter/ndx_suter.pdf

    The Role of the Mississippi in Deltaic Research: Contributions of James M. Coleman, Harry H. Roberts, and P. Shea Penland by John R. Suter, Search and Discovery Article #40598 (2010) Posted September 30, 2010, adapted from an oral presentation at AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, April 11-14, 2010 [Sutter's talk was given 12 Apr 10]

    and also:

    BJERSTEDT, T.W., 2011. Impacting factors and cumulative impacts by midcentury on wetlands in the Louisiana coastal area. Journal of Coastal Research, 27(6), 1029–1051. West Palm Beach (Florida), ISSN 0749-0208.

    http://www.bioone.org/doi/full/10.2112/JCOASTRES-D-10-00008.1

    • Kelly Haggar says:

      Forgot to mention a correction. Bjerstedt made a minor error in not distinguishing bed load from suspended load. A line in his 2011 article accidentally lumps them together. I asked him about the 190% discharge total and he realized a line conflates the two. No biggie; doesn’t change any conclusions or affect the logic of his article.

      Thus Bjerstedt 2011 reads:

      “The sediment discharge of the Mississippi River is a sediment load of 90% fine sand, 35% silt, and 65% clay (Coleman and Prior, 1980).”

      While Coleman and Prior 1980, p. 32, his source for the 2011 line, reads:

      “The annual sediment discharge is estimated at 6.21 x1011 kg; the bed load consists of 90 percent fine sand and the suspended load is characterized by 65% clays and 35% silt and very fine sand.”

  3. Hey Len,

    NP! Don’t worry about not knowing what the MCM was about. You are an engaged guy and you ask good questions practically every day. If everyone asked the important questions that you ask, the world would be better place.

    Furthermore, you indicated right up front that you might be wrong when you wrote your first commentary on the MC Method. That was awesome how you had the humility to accept you didn’t know what that was about, and did it with good humor.

    Merry Christmas,

    Sandy

  4. Kelly Haggar says:

    Len,

    “stormineaux” and your other source are more correct than you appreciate. They might be more correct than even they appreciate.

    All Civil Works projects are required to mitigate for their impacts, both as to upland but wooded sites and as to wetlands. The 2007 WRDA ramped up the 1986 WRDA requirements quite a bit, plus it gives an explicit preference towards commercial mitigation banks. Again, this is NOT just wetlands. If uplands have trees then they get WRDA mitigation even if they don’t need 404/wetland mitigation. Mote also that FEMA uses the word “mitigation” in a totally different context. Green space buyouts and house raising both count as “mitigation” for FEMA purposes even though neither one has any habitat replacement or enhancement. Buying out a house, ripping up the slab, and letting it go wild counts as hazard mitigation to FEMA regardless of what grows back.

    Two other points:

    1. MCM has nothing to do with the coast and neither does the Regulatory (Sec 10 and 404) program of the Corps. The New Orleans District’s boundary goes just north of Alexandia. More of New Orleans is out of the CZ than is in it. That’s also true of the other three districts covering the rest of La. Almost none of Vicksburg is in the CZ. None of Fort Worth is. MCM is about 404, period. La can exempt anything it likes from the CZ from a CZ inside a levee simply by using the fastland exemption. That has no effect on the Corps. For example, some Vietnamese folks lost a vegetable garden project for their elderly because the Corps 404 mitigation would have been several hundred $K despite being inside a levee with a fastland exemption from the CZ. In fact, the only bank they would have been allowed to use, assuming they could have afforded the price tag, was miles and miles away and on the opposite bank of the Mississippi.

    2. About 15 years ago the Corps had a fight with itself. The Regulatory folks wanted Civil Works to buy mitigation in advance for “imputed” development. They presumed that land behind new levees would be developed so they wanted those future wetland losses paid for at the same time as the levee work was done. Civil responded by asking if that meant Regualtory was also issuing permits for the “imputed” work. No, those things will still have to go through the public interest review process. So they might be turned down? Yes. Well then why should we budget for work that might never get approved and that won’t be done by us anyway? We aren’t going to build any schools or houses or shopping centers. We just build levees and pumps. Yes, but nobody would build that stuff unless you build a levee first. OK, then when the time comes that somebody else wants to build schools or houses or shopping centers then you charge them for mitigation you want at the time – if ever – that you approve it. And so Civil refused to pay imputed costs and of course that view prevailed inside the Corps.

    QED, don’t think too much about mitigation. It will just make your head hurt. Instead make a cookie tray for Santa and bounce the grandkids on your knee.

    • Kelly and Stormineaux-
      I appreciate your comments, which perfectly explain my abhorrence for stepping into the legal tar pit that Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act represent. Would that wetlands (both coastal and inland) had explicit protection under the law, not a complicated mishmash of rules riddled with loopholes.
      Len

  5. stormineaux says:

    This concerns Landrieu’s Letter. It is unlikely that the Senator’s motives were to call for the integration of restoration and regulation to save the Louisiana Coast. It is more likely that she is expressing the concerns of her constituents that wetland mitigation will become more expensive if the Modified Charleston Method (MCM) is used to determine the amount of offsite mitigation that will be required for permitted activities. In most cases MCM determines that more mitigation is required than the Wetland Value Assessment method, which according to its regulations, must be used by the Louisiana Coastal Resources Program. If the Corps implements MCM, mitigation costs will rise and mitigation credits, which are already expensive, will become more so. Thus, the cost of obtaining permits will almost certainly increase. This will affect the costs of all state coastal restoration projects which require 404 permits from the Corps, as well as oil and gas and residential development permits. Many agency scientists believe that the present methodologies result in under-mitigating permitted impacts, so MCM may be good for wetlands in the long run. Indeed, that is the reason it is being considered.
    One-size-fits-all? MCM or not, the policies of Section 404 have always been a little off for the conditions of the Louisiana coast. Federal policy tends to be based nationwide conditions, and the wetlands of the Louisiana coast experience vastly different conditions than those of the rest of the nation. In the permitting of activities in coastal Louisiana there should be more focus on long term hydrologic impacts than is currently the case under existing federal policy. That is not to say that wetland impacts should not be fully compensated, but hydrologic impacts should be factored in to the equation as well.
    Controversy? Of course restoration is more popular than regulation. Regulation is never popular, but Coastal Restoration transfers large amounts of government funding to private sector engineering firms and contractors, and it has the secondary purpose of saving the coast. So far it has proven it can do the former quite well, but the latter remains to be seen.

  6. Kelly Haggar says:

    Adler and the Wilson case – must be an older article because Wilson is from 1997 and the Corps lost Tulloch the first time in 2001. Later they lost it again, in 2009 as I recall. The trial court the second time said the arguments advanced were “unworthy of the Corps.”

    You should read up on Adler before you presume he’s naive. For example, check out his post-Rapanos Senate testimony.

    Later the home builders asked that judge to find the Corps in contempt after they issued some nationwides which the builders thought exceeded the limits of Tulloch II. The Corps resolved the problem by removing the offending langauge rather than attempting to defend what they had written.

    Ask one of your lawyer buds to explain the concept of “isolated wetlands.” Wilson was the first case establishing that principle, not SWANCC in 2001. In fact, I’ve been told the Corps intentionally did not appeal Wilson for fear the Supremes would uphold it. So, for 3 years, 1998-2001, we had isolated wetlands in 5 states but global wetland jurisdiction in the other 45. Now we have isolated evreywhere under a US flag.

  7. Hi Len,

    Do you have any info on the author of the PowerPoint, Marti Lucore, or the origin of the drawings of the proposed levees?

    • Ed-
      No, but I found Marti Lucore listed on a NOLA district web site, so I’m sure that the PP presentation represents official corps thinking, at least at that level.
      Len

      • Kelly Haggar says:

        I’ll bet “PMP” is just an office symbol, not the title or degree of “Project Management Professonal.” New Orleans is “CEMVN” because it’s “Corps of Engineers, Mississippi Valley Divison, New Orleans District.” That’s why Vicksburg is “MVK.” Mobile is “CESAM” because it’s in the South Atlantic Division. There are 4 Corps districts in La. Both Galveston (SWG) and Ft Worth (SWF) are in the Southwest Division.

        Air Force example –

        SE = Safety

        SEF = flight

        SEFF = fighter/trainer branch
        SEFB = bomber/tanker/cargo branch

        SEG = ground

        SEN = nukes

        SEW = weapons/explosives

        One branch of the B-1′s system office at Tinker was “MMBRKN” which caused a few smiles in the early days . . . “broken bomber.”

    • Marti Lucore was formerly project manager on the Larose to Golden Meadow project. She’s worked as a project manager in various coastal/hurricane protection projects since then. I always found her to be unusually candid, for a corps project manager.

      • And from the drawings, the Morganza alignment is the one proposed in the new feasibility study, which extends the alignment along old Highway 90 to protect Bayou Blue and Gibson because that ridge is thought to not provide significant storm protection any longer. There have also been modifications made to the lower reaches for wetland impact purposes.

  8. Len, you are such a ball breaker!
    Get Down! Get Back Up Again!
    Got yous hangin.
    ;) ;) ;)

  9. crab-eating mongoose says:

    America’s Wetland was an obvious fraud from the get-go. If you were asking the US government for enriched uranium, would you put Kim Yong Il’s picture on the front cover? But we were only asking for fourteen billion dollars back then, and what smiling, importuning face did we see on the first slick brochure for America’s Wasteland? Billy Tauzin, whose hostility to wetlands conservation had even made the pages of the journal Science. The rat mends the pumpkin, and the coast is toast!

  10. The erudite Dr. Ed Britton might paraphrase Mark Twain by saying, “The reports of my retirement have been greatly exaggerated.” Dr. Terry Howey was actually the retiree who was being honored. It was good to see you and the rest of the gang last evening.

  11. To clarify further – the Governor authorized opening the structures in 2010 despite scientific advice not to do so, which he ignored for a media-friendly chance to “do something.” That something involved killing a lot of oysters but not stopping any measurable amount of oil, in part because oil was not working its way into the areas influenced by the diversions. To compound the snafu, the Governor was unwilling to open the structures – as Len points out – during the historic 2011 flood, when they could have done some good for restoration, because of his action the year before. Likely, he feared getting sued by the oyster growers during an election year. So a key opportunity was lost – and of course a false narrative (see entry under “berms, sand”)was spun to the media and public that the structures couldn’t be opened because they needed repairs.
    But few know of it, and the Governor and his folks are well-aware of the political rule that perception equals reality.

Leave a Reply