Federal officials halt Chandeleur Island dredgingJul 2nd, 2010 | By Frank McCormack | Category: news
Parish President Billy Nungesser joined other state and local elected officials June 23 to fire back at the federal government for halting the cutter dredge California from building oil-blocking sand berms near the Chandeleur Islands.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, at the behest of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Department of the Interior, halted construction of the berms at the northern end of the Chandeleur Islands in St. Bernard Parish as of 6 p.m. June 22.
The Department of the Interior and FWS called for the halt to the dredging amid concerns over the location from which dredge material was being taken to construct the 200-foot-wide and 6-feet-tall sand berms. Department of the Interior officials had expressed concern that the dredging area’s close proximity to the existing Chandeleur Islands might actually undermine the delicate island chain, which acts as a buffer against rough seas and a habitat for marine wildlife.
A day after dredging was halted, elected officials, after touring the sand berm construction area near the Chandeleurs, were still fuming over the stop order, which came just a week after dredging activities began.
“We’re calling on the federal government to get out of the way,” Jindal said. “We’ve been losing 300 feet [of the Chandeleur Islands] every year, but where has the federal government been? All of a sudden we’re building land and they’re worried about hypotheticals.”
“They’re talking about hypothetical damage,” Jindal later said. “The reality is the oil is coming.”
The halt came less than a month after the Corps and the U.S. Coast Guard issued emergency permits for six portions of the 24-segment plan to construct oil-blocking sand berms along the historical line of Louisiana’s barrier island chains and just 20 days after the federal government ordered British Petroleum to pay for construction of all six initially-approved segments. The area shut down Tuesday makes up two of the six permitted segments. The other four segments are located on the west side of the Mississippi River, near Scofield Bay.
At the Chandeleur Islands, the Department of the Interior has asked the state to begin collecting sand at a location two miles away from the present dredge site. The dredge pipe relocation and moving the dredge itself could delay berm-building activities for more than a week.
Department of the Interior officials have claimed the state knew of their objections to the dredge site since May. Jindal openly challenged that claim.
“We are absolutely dredging from a place that was approved in the original permit,” he said.
Federal officials, though, have said the state verbally agreed to the second dredge site but failed to meet that obligation.
Jindal said the state learned of the Department of the Interior’s concerns, not in May, but on the first day of dredging activities. In just a week of dredging, close to one mile of new island had risen from the Gulf waters, Jindal said.
Jindal offered a simple alternative: Allow the dredging to continue while the new pipe is laid for the new site. Under that plan, dredging work would be delayed for only a day, not a full week. Jindal even said the state would replace the sand pumped from original dredge site.
With the dredge sitting idle, the governor said representatives from the Corps, the Department of the Interior and other federal agencies met Wednesday to discuss how to move forward.
“We don’t have time for meetings, we don’t have time for red tape and bureaucracies,” he said. “We’re fighting a war here.”
Echoing the governor’s frustrations, St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro said he believed the latest stalemate in the oil fight is another example of lessons from Hurricane Katrina not being applied to the spill.
“We can’t afford to not have lessons learned from the past, and that continues to be the crisis within this crisis,” Taffaro said. “I applaud the governor and [Plaquemines Parish] President Nungesser for their demand for action.”
“We want the Department of the Interior to be able to voice their concerns, but in an unobstructive way,” he added.
Nungesser called on President Barack Obama to once again intervene.
“Step in, let’s tell the bureaucrats to step aside, and let’s fight this war,” Nungesser said. “We know we’re about to fight a war out there. Give us the tools to do that.”
The night before, Nungesser fired off a letter to Obama requesting presidential intervention and offering some advice on good management: “Adaptive management and common sense are critical to the success of this project if we are going to prevail in protecting our precious marsh.”
The following day, Nungesser released an email from Jane Lyder, the Department of the Interior’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, that offered some ideas for speeding along the dredge pipe realignment.
“I’ve been asked, If we could get more people out there to help lay the pipe would it go faster?” Lyder wrote. “It was suggested that we should help the State find volunteers to make a 5-7 or 9-10 day job a much shorter job. Is that feasible at all? We would be willing to contact folks in Houma and round up volunteers if it would help at all.”
“You don’t move sediment pumping pipe with volunteers,” Nungesser later wrote on the parish’s website. “This is the lady that Thad Allen and President Obama are allowing to hold up dredging to save our wetlands – God help us.”
By the weekend, the dredge still sat idle while the pipe was repositioned.
Judge stays moratorium, drilling still in limbo
The same day the dredging operation at the Chandeleur Islands was shut down, opponents of the federally-mandated moratorium on new deep water drilling in the Gulf celebrated a small victory when U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman ruled against the Obama Administration, calling the moratorium order “arbitrary and capricious.”
In his ruling, Feldman said Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar failed to adequately communicate why the blanket moratorium was necessary in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion April 20.
The White House has vowed to appeal the ruling, while Salazar has said he will issue a second, more thorough moratorium in the coming days.
Jindal, though, continues to call on the federal government not to appeal the ruling and instead find a compromise and provide effective oversight of deep water drilling.
“That’s what the federal government is supposed to do – provide oversight,” Jindal said. “If they can’t do their job, it shouldn’t cost thousands of people their jobs.”