Of­fi­cials, sci­en­tists col­lid­ing over spill so­lu­tions

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION -

With oil hit­ting Barataria Bay, a vast es­tu­ary in south­east Louisiana that boasts one of the most pro­duc­tive fish­eries in the coun­try, lo­cal parish of­fi­cials hatched a plan in May to save the frag­ile ecosys­tem: They would build rock dikes across sev­eral ma­jor tidal in­lets be­tween the bay and the Gulf of Mex­ico to block and then cap­ture the oil.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jin­dal sup­ported the plan, and BP agreed to pay for the project, es­ti­mated to cost $30 mil­lion. By early June, load­ing be­gan of about 100,000 tons of rock onto barges on the Mis­sis­sippi River for trans­port to the coast.

But over the week­end, the Army Corps of En­gi­neers de­nied a per­mit for the project, cit­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns, in par­tic­u­lar the po­ten­tial for the rock bar­ri­ers to cause wide­spread ero­sion and the breach­ing of Barataria Bay’s ex­ist­ing bar­rier is­lands. The rul­ing echoed the sen­ti­ments of in­de­pen­dent ex­perts on coastal wet­lands who had strongly ob­jected to the plan.

As the oil spill en­ters its third month, Louisiana of­fi­cials have grown in­creas­ingly en­am­ored of large-scale en­gi­neer­ing projects, such as sand berms and rock walls, to keep the oil off their coast. But these projects have brought the de­sires of state and lo­cal of­fi­cials into sharp con­flict not only with a com­pli­cated fed­eral bu­reau­cracy charged with pro­tect­ing wet­lands and es­tu­ar­ies, but also with an ex­pe­ri­enced and highly vo­cal com­mu­nity of lo­cal coastal sci­en­tists.

“They’re just sit­ting back crit­i­ciz­ing,” said Deano Bo­nano, emer­gency pre­pared­ness di­rec­tor for Jef­fer­son Parish, which bor­ders Barataria Bay. “Where are they when it comes to pro­tect­ing this bay?”

But the sci­en­tists in­sist the rock plan was mis­guided.

“There was very strong sci­en­tific back­ing for not do­ing this,” said Denise Reed, a wet­lands spe­cial­ist and di­rec­tor of the Pontchar­train In­sti­tute for En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ences in New Or­leans. “This could re­ally dev­as­tate our bar­rier shore­line, our first line of de­fense.”

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