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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan June 1, 2010

Jindal slams Feds over skepticism about Louisiana plan to build sand barriers against the oil spill

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal lamented the federal response to the state's plans to erect sand barriers to keep oil out of marshlands in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Jindal talked about a meeting he had had with President Obama where Jindal explained what the state wanted from the feds.

"The area we spent the most time was on our plan, the state's plan, to build sand booms to keep this oil out of our wetlands. Now, we have said for weeks now we'd much rather fight this oil on a sandy barrier island than fighting inside our wetlands. We've got miles and miles of these islands that have been eroded by Katrina, by storms, and over time. We proposed a plan, 24 segments, to rebuild, to refortify these islands. After weeks -- and if they'd approved this when we first asked, we could have built 10 miles, 10 miles of sand barriers."

Host Jake Tapper interjected here: "The president says that more is not always better, and the Army Corps of Engineers took the request seriously, evaluated it, decided it was okay for certain areas, but they didn't necessarily think immediately the plan that was suggested was the right plan. Is that not a fair response?"

"Yesterday, the Army Corps of Engineers approved 6 segments out of 24, over 40 miles out of 100," Jindal replied. "But here's where our concern was: The federal government only ordered BP to pay for to do one of those six segments. That's 2 miles out of 100. Our message to the president today was: Make BP pay for this. The federal government shouldn't be making excuses for BP. This is their spill, their oil. They're the responsible party. Make them responsible."

We wanted to check Jindal's claim that the federal government only ordered BP to pay "to do one of those six segments." The Obama administration has said over and over that the oil company BP will pay for the clean up, and we wondered how to reconcile that with Jindal's statements.

It turns out that Jindal is right about BP paying for one of six segments of sand barriers, but there's more to the story. As Tapper's comment suggested, the feds aren't so keen on the idea of building sand berms. Federal agencies are chiefly concerned that they can't be constructed quickly enough to intercept the oil, and that they will divert money and attention from other efforts.

Nevertheless, on Thursday, May 27, 2010, U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said the government would give permission for the construction of six barriers and authorize BP to pay for one, as a test to see if the barrier plan is feasible. That one barrier would cost $16 million and be paid for by BP or the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

"Louisiana's original proposal called for the dredging of more than 92 million cubic yards of material over a six to nine month period to build temporary barrier islands," said a statement issued by the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command. The group approved a more limited project because "implementation of the proposal in all areas approved by the Army Corps of Engineers, in the midst of an active spill, would not be prudent or provide effective protection—especially considering the complications of a major construction project occurring in the midst of a response encompassing more than 20,000 personnel and 1,300 vessels."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers listed 33 separate conditions that had to be met, including protections for navigation channels and wildlife.

Allen said the approval was meant as a test case. "There are a lot of doubts whether this is a valid oil spill response technique, given the length of construction and so forth," he said. "But we're not averse to attempting this as a prototype."

Some environmentalists also criticized initial proposals for dredging sand for the barriers too close to shore, according to a report in the Times-Picayune newspaper. After changes were made to address those concerns, the cost estimates for the barriers rose from $250 million to $350 million.

The state government could move to build the barriers with state money, but Jindal has rejected that idea without a guarantee of reimbursement.

So Jindal is right that the federal government has authorized payment for only one of six barriers. But he leaves out the fact that the government has doubts about the plan and whether it will work or not, and the first barrier is meant as a test case. We rate his statement Mostly True.

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Jindal slams Feds over skepticism about Louisiana plan to build sand barriers against the oil spill

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