In March 2007, the New Orleans Times-Picayune published “Last Chance,” a series on the dire straights, faced by Louisiana’s declining coast wetlands. Included in the series was a chart, titled Bureaucratic Barrier Islands, which outlines the years-long process any coastal reconstruction project must go through before the first shovel of dirt can happen.
Now Louisiana wants to build temporary barrier islands that stretch east and west of the Mississippi River, those that front and protect Breton Sound and the Barataria Basin respectively from salt water intrusion and these days oil. The state has applied to the Corps of Engineers for an emergency permit to build the islands out front of the two basins.
When Congress passed the 2007 Water Resources Development Act, it authorized but did not fund the Louisiana Coastal Area Ecosystem Restoration program. The program included beefing up Shell Island directly west of the Mississippi and the Caminada Headland to the west of Grand Isle, the only occupied barrier island in Louisiana, in the Barataria Basin Barrier Shoreline Restoration project.
Finally, this year President Obama included funding for the program when he added $35.6 million dollars for coastal reconstruction. Congress still has to appropriate the money. Small potatoes compared to the 2005 estimated coast of just a small part of the program directed at the Barataria Basin: $859,300,300.
Gov. Jindal and the State of Louisiana are proposing by-passing the cumbersome years-long project approval process, by asking BP, whose oil is threatening Louisiana’s wetlands to pay for this project. BP has made no commitment, but the state wants to be ready to go when and if BP decides to fund the building temporary barrier island at best. If barrier islands can mitigate the force of a hurricane, than maybe they can keep oil out of the wetlands and maybe not.
Update, May 27: A posting from Media Matters covers the controversy about whether the Feds and the Corps of Engineers have responded quickly enough to Gov. Jindal’s May 11 request for emergency approval to build an 86-mile long sand berm to protect Louisiana’s coastal wetlands from the influx of oil from BP oil.
Scientists question whether Louisiana has enough quality sand to waste on building sand berm designed to collect oil.
June 3: Speaking of defense, Gov. Bobby Jindal has gotten approval from President Obama and the Coast Guard to build his temporary barrier island out front of existing barrier islands. Len Bahr atLaCoastPost has a discussion coastal scientists’ take on the efficacy of the plan, which includes building sacrificial marshes behind the sand berms. He also included a link to Louisiana’s PBS Station’s series of broadcasts on the artificial barrier islands and the fate of the brown pelican. It is worth a listen.
Update, June 4: Environment 360, Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, is a remarkable website. On June 3 Rob Young, a professor of coastal ecology at Western Carolina University posted an article, listing the reasons Gov. Bobby Jindal’s artificial barrier islands are a bad idea. They are expensive to build; they use up scarce resources–sand and cash; a six feet high and 3oo feet wide they will erode almost as soon as constructed; surely, they will erode in a hurricane; they probably won’t prevent oil from flowing through tidal passes between real barrier islands; they may cause damage to real barrier islands; and finally, once through the tidal passes, they may trap oil in the estuaries and wetlands. Maybe, in this case, the Corps’ years-long review of coastal project wasn’t such a bad idea.