In Louisiana, where marshlands lie between major waterways that intersect one another with the regularity of metropolitan freeways, keeping oil-tainted water from contaminating inland lakes and rivers will take critical planning and hard work.
At a Tuesday meeting at Fort Pike on the Rigolets, where St. Tammany and Orleans parishes have set up an oil spill disaster command center, Gov. Bobby Jindal congratulated local leaders for spearheading coastal protection and disaster response efforts.
“I’m proud of the detailed plans our local leaders undertook for each and every parish after realizing BP has no plan in place to protect our coastline,” he said.
Jindal said 200,000 feet of boom have been spread along the Louisiana coastline and $100 million has been secured to protect and respond to oil reaching coastal Louisiana.
“We continue to hope for the best all the while planning for the worst,” Jindal said.
He said crews would boom along the Biloxi Marsh of Breton Sound in St. Bernard Parish and in other places to try to keep oil from entering the mouths of the East and West Pearl rivers, and from hitting Lake Borgne.
BP representative Irvin Lipp said factories all over the country are scurrying to catch up with the unprecedented demand for boom, a plastic sheath that’s placed over foliage and anchored down to create a barrier between unspoiled territory and oil-contaminated water.
On Tuesday, Jindal said the “worst case scenario is the oil will seep into and pass through the bayous and end up in Lake Pontchartrain.”
“We just spent the last 20 years cleaning up Lake Pontchartrain,” said Suzanne Parsons, public information officer for St. Tammany Parish, as she explained St. Tammany’s three-tier line of defense.
The first tier involves protecting the Biloxi Marsh and Breton Sound area in St. Bernard Parish. The second tier involves keeping Lake Borgne clean, but if the oil does reach the lake, crews will boom up U.S. Highway 90, where a decontamination station has been established before Lake Pontchartrain to protect it.
For many locals, it’s difficult to talk about defense against the gushing oil without referring to Hurricane Katrina. The command center at Fort Pike is close to the Mississippi-Louisiana border, where the eye of Katrina hit. The vast flooding in St. Bernard Parish and New Orleans East following Katrina was not the result of the hurricane itself, but the shoddy design of a shipping channel that was built and maintained by the Corps of Engineers, according to an October 2009 ruling by U.S. District Judge Standwood Duval.
“You know, we lost 48,000 homes in St. Tammany Parish during Katrina,” Parsons said. “That’s 71 percent of the houses.”
Sen. David Vitter told Jindal earlier this week, “When you slipped and you mentioned the Corps of Engineers as part of the oil protection project, you scared me to death.”
Vitter confirmed that President Obama has approved deploying 1,100 National Guardsmen along the coast for disaster response and to protect against oil intrusion. Obama also encouraged parish officials to make emergency decisions as the first in line of command.
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