Government & Politics
 

Bermdoggle: The real barrier that Gov. Jindal will have to overcome

If you’re a tax-raising child molester who snorts bath salts, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is your worst nightmare.

Otherwise, as the social network kids like to say, Jindal is pretty “meh.” (Translation: “not so much”.)

For example, this Gambit story by Jeremy Alford on the evolution and cost of Jindal’s sand berm scheme is pretty amusing. It depicts Jindal and his Coastal Restoration Czar Garret Graves acting “a tad smug” over their clever “pivot” away from failed sand berms and towards protective barrier islands. A certain amount of spin-meistering was inevitable, since critics had dubbed the original plan a “bermdoggle” that took months to build, absorbed little oil, and cost $220 million.

Rather than persisting in their costly mistake, Graves and Jindal wisely decided to use the remaining $140 million of BP’s money to convert the berms into barrier islands.  But instead of being circumspect about their policy “pivot,” and acknowledging that the doubts about their berms were justified, Graves and Jindal are acting unabashed. It’s like they expect us to join them in a round of awkward high fives and chest bumps because, as they say, “the state’s largest barrier island restoration project in history” is at hand.

Who says a silk purse can’t have porcine origins? Let’s raise our virgin apple-tinis and sloshily toast the “Cajun ingenuity” of the Jindal administration!

Rather than some great triumph, the administration’s berm-to-barrier pivot resembles a small victory snatched from the jaws of a large defeat. No, scratch that. How about a smaller defeat snatched from the jaws of a great big one. Coastal scientist Len Bahr puts it in perspective. Bahr, who has served in the top echelons of coastal reclamation for Democrat and Republican governors alike, observes that the new Hoover Dam Bypass cost about the same amount as the berms and is certain to outlast them:

“That’s an awesome structure that’s going to be around beyond the end of petroleum, and here we’ve spent $220 million and got virtually nothing to show for it,” [Bahr] said. “It just seems appalling to me.”

The Oil Spill Commission report on the BP/Macondo disaster said the original berm idea was a bust, based on official estimates that at most the berms captured 1,000 barrels of the millions spilled. Jindal and Graves responded to the criticism by saying the bipartisan commission was being… “partisan.” Then they disputed the estimates of the berms’ effectiveness:

“There’s not a federal agency or state agency that has any accurate data on how much oil was captured [by the berms], so to use that as a metric for success is absurd,” Graves said in a statement.

Yet, only a few months earlier…

Garret Graves, a Jindal aide who handles coastal affairs, said “some the heaviest oiling on Louisiaina’s coast” occurred on the berms. He said the Louisiana National Guard has picked up at least 1,000 pounds of oily debris from them.

“Now is not the time to stop protective measures that have proven their effectiveness,” he said.

I see. There’s not enough “accurate data” to say the berms failed, but there’s plenty to show they succeeded. A thousand pounds of “oily debris” proves their worth, but Graves’ own (generous) estimate that the berms stopped 1,000 barrels of oil is just not “accurate” enough to determine if they failed.  Maybe a thousand barrels were absorbed, or maybe a hundred thousand — who knows?

Funny, I didn’t see the Jindal administration contesting estimates about the total amount of oil released from the Macondo when they were rallying around the sand berm idea. Back then, Jindal declared that his berm idea had already been proven. “We know it works,” he said. Now his administration is telling us there’s not enough data to conclude that the berms didn’t work.

Well, here’s a little back-of-the-envelope data for you: if the berms actually absorbed 1,000 barrels, then at $220 million, their efficacy can be priced at $220,000 per barrel.

More likely, we’ll never acquire the necessary “metrics” to assess how the state used nearly a quarter of a billion dollars for coastal protection. According to Matt Rota of Gulf Restoration Network blog, “the original berms… east of the existing [Chandeleur] Islands” have already been moved or washed away.

That outcome, predicted even before the berms were built, didn’t stop Jindal from whining to the national media about federal hesitance to approve a dubious idea, then writing a book criticizing the President and claiming the berms DID in fact work, and promoting said book at far-flung fundraisers while his state heads over a fiscal cliff.

A little less self-congratulation from the governor over his berms-to-barriers pivot might serve the state a lot better.

After all, as we beg American taxpayers for tens of billions of dollars to repair the coast, do we really want to keep our angry demand for quick approval of the $360 milllion “bermdoggle” fresh in their minds?

Fortunately, the Oil Spill Commission has been forgiving. Rather than hold the berm fiasco against Louisiana, it recommends that billions in fines from the spill be channeled into coastal restoration projects. Remember, Louisiana is one of the most anti-Obama states in the U.S. Conservative politicians here love to campaign as if they’re running against Obama himself. Yet the President and the Oil Spill Commission he appointed have shown an impressive commitment to help Louisiana restore its coast, one of the largest and most expensive challenges facing the nation.

The question is: after Jindal’s noisy grandstanding over the expensive, ineffectual sand berms, will the American taxpayer share Obama’s commitment to Gulf Coast restoration? That is, will they view restoration as a visionary goal worthy of national sacrifice? Or will they see it as a naive President getting shaken down, once again, by short-sighted locals?

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  • Well, I guess what’s good for The Shaw Group is good for the Gret Stet, eh? I tell you — the sand must be made of diamond dust…

  • Courrèges

    “A little less self-congratulation from the governor over his berms-to-barriers pivot might serve the state a lot better.”

    I guess I can agree with that. Some of the disdain for the berm project has been 20/20 hindsight (we were definitely in the “try anything” stage when it started), and there’s at least some dispute as to how effective it was (I have a lot of problems with the Oil Spill Commission’s report).

    That said, the project definitely wasn’t some runaway success, and almost certainly wasn’t cost effective. However, I like the idea of turning lemons into lemonade by creating and maintaining artificial barrier islands; at first blush sounds like a good idea on its own merit. Also, I don’t think the rest of the country is going to bash Louisiana for attempting to stop a runaway oil spill with sand berms even if they proved ineffective.