Gulf oil spill: Barrier island berm plan runs aground


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The state of Louisiana continued its pattern of brinkmanship with the federal government, this time violating its agreement regarding the construction of sand berms to protect the state’s barrier islands from oil.

The dredging project outside the Chandeleur Islands was shut down Tuesday night because the state was taking sand from a sensitive area it had agreed to leave alone.


State officials say they needed to dredge in the area, east of the Mississippi River, because they didn’t have enough pipe to move the material from the site approved by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has led the charge for the berm project, saying the sand levees were necessary to protect the state’s fragile wetlands.

The Chandeleur Islands once extended almost to the Mississippi coast but lost 85% of their land mass in Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The project has been fraught with controversy, however, as coastal scientists complained that the wholesale reconfiguring of the barrier island system would have negative, unintended consequences. In addition, critics said, the sand barriers would not withstand a serious gulf storm.

Asst. Secretary of the Interior Tom Strickland said Wednesday that the federal government had already allowed the work to continue in an area that might eventually degrade the barrier island chain, which is part of Breton National Wildlife Refuge. He said the state asked for a five-day reprieve and was given 10 days to stop dredging, and that deadline expired Tuesday.

Strickland said the Interior Department rejected Louisiana officials’ request for an additional 10 days to construct two miles of pipeline, suggesting authorities have had since the middle of May to get pipeline equipment in place.

“The issues at stake here are critical,” Strickland said. “Protection of an important wildlife refuge, the protection of a barrier island that plays an important role to protect the people of Louisiana and the coastline. We’ve been very flexible; we understood that logistical issues come up. We’ve acted in good faith.”

-- Julie Cart