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May 19, 2010

Oil hits Louisiana wetlands

Today, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal joined Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser and other local officials for a meeting and boat tour off the coast of Plaquemines Parish in the Pass a Loutre area where he observed firsthand substantial oil impact on Louisiana's wetlands. The Governor and local officials rode through and inspected thick, dark oil that has made its way into the state's fragile wetlands. The Governor held a press conference in Venice following the tour where he renewed his plea to the Army Corps of Engineers to issue an emergency permit so the dredging plan can begin quickly.

Governor Jindal said, "We saw some heavy oil stranded in the wetlands. The oil is no longer just a projection or miles from our shore. The oil is here. It is on our shores and in our marsh.

"The oil is here and the time to act is now," said the Governor. "We are asking the Corps to approve our dredging plan today without any further delay. We have already asked the Coast Guard to approve advancing the resources we will need to implement this plan, including barges and other dredging ships, so we can get to work quickly."

The dredging plan is to build "sand booms" along the alignment of the state's historic barrier islands in the Chandeleurs, Barataria Bay and Timbalier Bay. An emergency permit was filed for last week with the Army Corps of Engineers. Once the Corps approves the plan, land is expected to begin being built in around ten days.

In anticipation of receiving a permit from the Corps, the state has already begun steps to prioritize and determine the capacity of each sand borrow site needed to construct the sand booms. The state has boats out conducting surveys. Magnetometers were used to identify existing pipelines, and side-scan sonar used to develop images of the seafloor. Sampling and assessments are being performed to identify contaminated sediments and to ensure that the materials are safe and the receiving areas are clean.

According to NOAA, the total amount of Louisiana shoreline with oil impact to date is 34.52 miles. DEQ has confirmed shoreline impacts to date on: the Chandeleur Islands, Whiskey Island, Raccoon Island, South Pass, East Fourchon/Elmers Island, Grand Isle, Trinity Island, Brush Island, and the Pass a Loutre area.


Governor Jindal said, "In Plaquemines, just like our other coastal areas, we are leaning forward to explore multiple avenues for protecting our coast. We know booming is one option - but we cannot only count on boom to protect our coast, especially as the supply of boom continues to fall short of what is needed to protect many areas.

"We continue to be concerned about the shortage of boom in parishes west of the river and we're pushing the Coast Guard and BP for more boom in these and other sensitive areas."

The Governor reiterated that he is not simply waiting for more boom, and instead, the state continues to pursue alternative options to booming. Governor Jindal said, "We are aggressively pursuing booming alternatives, as that is only one tool in the toolbox."

The Governor provided an update on various alternative projects being pursued to contain the oil:

Elmer's Island at Grande Isle: National Guard engineers continue to backfill gaps and conduct maintenance in the vicinity of Elmer's Island where they closed a 785-foot gap last week.

Port Fourchon Sandbag Drop Operations: About 30 engineers from the 928th Engineer Company are filling five total gaps in the vicinity of Thunder Bayou in Port Fourchon. Teams are currently working simultaneously in the vicinity of Thunder Bayou and also on the western side of Elmer's Island. Engineers are working from each end to the center to backfill five cuts on the island. Gap 1 on the east end is now 80 percent complete and Gap 5 on the west end is about 85 percent complete. The National Guard already closed a large 150-foot gap there last week.

Tiger Dam Project at Southwest Pass: Around 42 engineers from the 528th Engineer Battalion are working to secure 7.1 miles in Southwest Pass with Tiger Dams. Approximately 1.5 miles of the Tiger Dam is now completed and Guardsmen are currently assembling, laying out, and inflating additional sections. National Guardsmen have already positioned 92 pallets of Tiger Dam to Grand Isle for future deployment - which is around 7 miles of dam material. Developed by U.S. Flood Control Corp. Tiger Dams are an alternative to sand bags. They consist of a series of engineered interlocking flexible tubes that are inflated with water to form an impervious temporary dam.

Sand Fill: CPRA and the National Guard have also identified approximately 40 total locations where gaps in barrier islands could be filled with sandbags or dump trucks of sand. This strategy would complement a more complete and extensive dredging/sand booming plan.

As of this morning, the National Guard had dropped 220 sandbags on Pelican Island to completely fill the first gap there, which was around 200 feet. They were to begin to fill the second gap later in the day. There are eight gaps total in the plan for Pelican Island and another six gaps that need to be filled with sand bags in the plan for Scofield Island. Also, the National Guard's staging area in Buras is now operational - which allows Blackhawks lifting the sandbags to make more trips more quickly and help speed up the work there.

Hesco Baskets: The state also recently got approval to deploy Hesco baskets on the backside of Grand Isle, Lafourche and in Cameron Parish to protect the shorelines there. Today, representatives from the National Guard, DNR and Lafourche Parish are meeting to coordinate Hesco basket placement in Lafourche. Hesco baskets are wire-mesh and fabric baskets that are filled with sand and widely used by the military in combat zones to provide protection around outposts.

Freshwater Diversions: The state is also already running a variety of freshwater diversions to push freshwater out to protect the shore.


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