In claiming that the Gulf oil spill is "Obama's Katrina," media figures and outlets have falsely suggested that the federal government has been unresponsive to Louisiana's request for a permit to create sand barriers -- or "berms" -- around the coast. But, as required by law, the Army Corps of Engineers has been studying the plan's impacts and reportedly responded with concerns that it could push oil into Mississippi; and, numerous experts have questioned whether the plan would even be effective.
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Media falsely suggest gov't is unresponsive to LA barrier plan
Rove falsely claimed LA officials have "yet to hear back" about barrier permit. In his May 27 Wall Street Journal column, Karl Rove said the Obama administration has "delayed or blown off key decisions requested by state and local governments" and falsely claimed Louisiana has "yet to hear back" from the Army Corps about its plan to create barriers. Later in the column, Rove wrote: "Could this be Mr. Obama's Katrina? It could be even worse." From the column:
Now the administration is intent on making it appear he has engaged all along. But this stance is undermined by lack of action. Where has its plan been? And why has the White House been so slow with decisions?
Take the containment strategy of barrier berms. These temporary sand islands block the flow of oil into fragile wetlands and marshes. Berm construction requires approval from the Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Louisiana officials asked permission on May 11. They have yet to hear back. The feds are conducting a review as oil washes ashore.
Fox & Friends advanced false claim that LA is "not getting an answer" from the government about barrier plan. On the May 27 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, after noting that "some" are calling the spill "Obama's Katrina" and that "the government response has been pitiful, in the estimation of a lot of people," co-host Steve Doocy played a clip of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) saying, "We're not getting the adequate response we need from the federal government." According to Scalise:
SCALISE: Our governor, over two weeks ago, has been asking for the federal government to approve a barrier plan to actually protect our marsh from the oil, and we're not getting an answer from the federal government. All we're getting is excuses. We've got letters from the Corps of Engineers and others that are saying they need to do studies. They need to look at the environmental impact. Well, the environmental impact is right there in our marsh.
USA Today article about "Obama's Katrina" reported that Army Corps "voiced concerns" about sand berms proposal, but didn't report what concerns were. In an article highlighting criticism of the government and whether the oil spill has become "Obama's Katrina," USA Today reported that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) complained about "a slow government response to his state's proposal to build a 94-mile-long string of sand berms across Louisiana's coast to keep the oil at bay." It reported that the Army Corps and Coast Guard "voiced concerns," but it did not report what the concerns are. From the May 27 article:
Another Jindal complaint: a slow government response to his state's proposal to build a 94-mile-long string of sand berms across Louisiana's coast to keep the oil at bay.
The $350 million barrier plan was hatched by Plaquemines Parish officials shortly after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as a way to keep out future storm surges and could work equally well to block out the oil, says P.J. Hahn, director of coastal management for the parish.
The plan would take four to six months to complete, but 12 dredges working simultaneously on the project would bring relief to coastal marshes almost immediately, says Nungesser, the Plaquemines president.
On May 11, Louisiana requested an emergency permit for the plan from the Army Corps of Engineers that would bypass lengthy environmental impact reviews. Corps and Coast Guard officials have voiced concerns, and the matter is still under review.
"We understand the importance and significance of this emergency permit request, and it is a top priority," the Army Corps said in a statement.
Army Corps reportedly responded to plan with concerns that it would drive oil into Mississippi
AP: Army Corps documents say barriers "could instead funnel oil into more unprotected areas and into neighboring Mississippi." The Associated Press reported on May 26 that the Army Corps released documents that day that "signaled support for parts of the state plan, including berms that would be built onto existing barrier islands," but stated that parts of the plan "could inadvertently alter tides and end up driving oil east -- into Mississippi Sound, the Biloxi Marshes and Lake Borgne." From the article:
A wall of sand that Louisiana officials have requested to block the Gulf of Mexico slick could instead funnel oil into more unprotected areas and into neighboring Mississippi, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said in documents released Wednesday.
Gov. Bobby Jindal and leaders from several coastal parishes want to ring the state's southeastern coastline with a $350 million, 86-mile network of sand berms. However, the corps says the barrier could inadvertently alter tides and end up driving oil east -- into Mississippi Sound, the Biloxi Marshes and Lake Borgne.
Eager to build the berms before the damage gets worse, Louisiana officials said they were willing to delay construction on parts of the barrier to avoid swamping Mississippi with oil.
Millions of gallons are still swirling in the Gulf. Supporters of the sand berms say oil could keep hitting Louisiana's coastline for months.
In documents released Wednesday by the state, the corps signaled support for parts of the state plan, including berms that would be built onto existing barrier islands.
The agency said that if the 6-foot-high sand barriers worked, they could capture oil and allow skimmer boats to more effectively scoop floating crude.
The section highlighted as a possible hazard to Mississippi would connect from the Chandeleur Islands to the marshes in eastern Plaquemines Parish.
AP: Army Corps previously said it was "working as quickly as possible" on permit request "but still has to follow" federal law. The AP reported on May 24 that "the Corps said it is working as quickly as possible on the emergency permit request -- but still has to follow various steps required by federal law." From the article:
In a statement, the Corps said the state's application is being processed as an emergency permit. The agency said that under federal law, the Corps had to comment on the proposal, leading the state to file a revised plan on May 14. The agency said the information is now being evaluated for potential environmental impacts.
The Corps said it is working closely with the state -- and will make a decision as quickly as possible.
Experts have questioned plan's effectiveness and long-term impact
AP: "[E]xperts and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have questioned whether the barrier system could be completed in time." The May 26 AP article also quoted Len Bahr, who "served as a coastal adviser to five Louisiana governors, including Jindal," saying, "The horses are already out of the barn. The oil is already out there." From the article:
Some independent experts and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have questioned whether the barrier system could be completed in time to keep out the oil.
"The horses are already out of the barn. The oil is already out there," said Len Bahr, who served as a coastal adviser to five Louisiana governors, including Jindal.
Adm. Allen: Building barriers of that scope "is going to take a very, very long time" and "significant amount of resources" that "might be applied elsewhere." During a May 24 press conference, Adm. Thad Allen was asked about Jindal's "frustrat[ion] that the federal government was not being responsive to the requests." Allen responded that the Corps was working on a review of "cost and the schedule, the feasibility, the engineering issues associated with" the plan and that "building a set of barrier islands and berms that large is going to take a very, very long time even by the state's own estimate -- six to nine months in some cases -- and a significant amount of resources associated with that that might be applied elsewhere."
Times-Picayune: Plan "raises considerable financial and ecological questions." The Times-Picayune reported on May 21 that, "while Jindal and the state's congressional delegation have waged an us-vs.-them battle with the federal government over what they term a slow, bureaucratic response, the state's plan itself is a work in progress that raises considerable financial and ecological questions." From the article:
But while Jindal and the state's congressional delegation have waged an us-vs.-them battle with the federal government over what they term a slow, bureaucratic response, the state's plan itself is a work in progress that raises considerable financial and ecological questions.
Though less objectionable to the scientific and environmental community, the new plan would require dredges to transport sand from a borrow site to the island creation spot -- adding significant additional time and costs to the project.
While many scientists and environmental groups applaud Jindal's efforts to deal with a potentially catastrophic threat to the state's ecosystem, there are fears about using the state's precious sand resources to build berms that are destined to be fouled by oil.
Weathers: Barrier plan is "not going to get completed" in time. The Times-Picayune quoted Dallon Weathers, a geologist at the University of New Orleans saying, "This thing is not going to get completed in a timeframe that's on the same schedule as this spill."
Lopez: "Need to make sure" barriers are "something that you're not going to regret later." The Times-Picayune quoted John Lopez, a coastal sustainability director for the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation saying, "I think you have to consider these islands as much as possible in this emergency situation, but you really need to make sure you're doing something that you're not going to regret later. ... Obviously this is an emergency situation, but quality sand for barrier islands is not an unlimited resource in Louisiana, and we would not want to see depletion of the quality of sand that could be used down the road."
Stone: "Foolish to embark on a project of this scale without establishing potential negative impacts." The Christian Science Monitor reported on May 24 that according to Gregory Stone, a professor of oceanography at Louisiana State University, "[s]tate leaders are not ... considering questions about its long-term effects on the coastal environment." Stone reportedly added: "This is a mammoth engineering project, and it can be done, but it's being done willy-nilly. It's foolish to embark on a project of this scale without establishing potential negative impacts on currents, on coastal erosion, on wildlife habitat, on whole range of environmental issues."
NY Times: Experts "concerned" that using "scarce sand" for temporary gain could compromise long-term restoration. The New York Times reported on May 21 that "many experts say it is not at all clear whether dredging companies could build up the barrier islands quickly enough to save the marshes. They are also concerned that the kind of sand berms envisioned in the plan might wash away quickly after a couple of storms, wasting scarce sand in the region." The Times reported that Stone "said that dredging and pumping large amounts of sand amid Louisiana's complex inlets and bays could harm ocean life" and that "any plan required closer study before it is put in place." It also reported:
The governor's plan would not permanently rebuild degraded coastal islands -- a delicate and complex process that has been planned for years. A temporary sand barrier could wash away in a matter of months, experts said. And the type of sand necessary for long-term coastal restoration is in short supply along Louisiana's shoreline.
"If we use the good sand that we have for this quick-and-dirty berm, and a storm comes in and spreads it around, we've lost the major sand resource that we wanted to use for barrier-island restoration," Dr. Reed said. "We could compromise the long-term restoration of the coast for a short-term gain."
Right now, the chain of barrier islands has very little protection. Asbury H. Sallenger Jr., an oceanographer with the United States Geological Survey, said the Chandeleur Islands lost the majority of their surface area during Hurricane Katrina. Even a strong wind can push a surge of water over the island, he said.
But Dr. Sallenger, like other experts, noted that the dredging project would take months to complete, and the oil is already showing up in the marshes. "My first question is whether such a thing could be done, from a scientific basis, quickly enough to be useful," he said.