BATON ROUGE — Oil collection on the Louisiana coastline from the Deepwater Horizon spill continues to increase three years after the disaster, a governor’s office representative told the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority at the board’s monthly meeting in Baton Rouge on Wednesday.
The combined efforts of the U.S Coast Guard, state authorities and BP resulted in the discovery of 2.9 million more pounds of oily matter between March and August this year than in the same period in 2012, said Drue Winters, an attorney with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office.
“It just goes to show there’s still a ton of oil out there, it’s difficult to find, and we need to keep working to find it,” Winters said.
Large oil mats are still being found on beaches and barrier islands, Winters said, including one mat spanning more than 10,000 square feet found recently at Fort Livingston. The mat’s proximity to the historic fort is delaying cleanup operations, she said.
Dean Blanchard, a resident of Grand Isle, expressed concern that the state is not doing enough to protect coastal communities or to hold BP accountable for the results of the spill. BP workers are “trying to get out of here as fast as they can. If they can, they’re leaving. Out of sight, out of mind.”
John Barry, who was forced off the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East by Jindal for leading the agency’s lawsuit against oil and gas companies for coastal damages, did not attend the meeting as expected. Barry, who still holds a seat on the coastal authority board under an appointment by the governor, was represented instead by Tim Doody, the Flood Protection Authority board president who also is expected to lose his seat on that panel due to his support for the suit.
“I agreed with Tim it was best to let everything cool off for the moment,” Barry said in an email. “This is a long war. If I’m still on the CPRA next month, almost certain I will go then.”
Winters also updated the board on the ongoing federal lawsuit against BP.
The first phase of the trial, which involves determining who is at fault for the blowout of the rig and whether the reaction can be characterized as “gross negligence,” has been put on hold until the second phase has been completed, she said.
Winters said the ongoing second phase involves calculating the flow rate of oil after the spill and determining BP’s efforts to contain it.
The third phase of the suit, which will remain unscheduled until the other phases have concluded, will determine penalties to the company under the Clean Water Act.
The board also heard updates on several ongoing coastal restoration projects throughout southern Louisiana.
Coastal authority board member Steve Wilson said efforts to build a new levee near Lake Pontchartrain have run into an obstacle as residents of the area are unhappy with the planned levee route. Wilson proposed another route that he said was endorsed by parish presidents in the affected area and would take the place of a proposed extension to the raised portion of Interstate 10.
Wilson said further raising the highway would have a negative impact on the surrounding wetlands and would be more expensive than his levee proposal.
The Cameron Parish shoreline project, which will extend 8.7 miles of beach and protect 40,000 acres of wetlands, is expected to be completed in February 2014, said Robert Routon, project manager for the state coastal agency. The project had to be scaled back slightly from the original proposal because of budget constraints, he said.
Kyle Graham, deputy executive director of the coastal agency, said the group is accepting bids for a long-distance sediment pipeline project that will become the largest-ever marsh creation effort in Louisiana.
“We’re definitely in the largest construction and restoration period in the state’s history,” he said.
Graham said the project will be headed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but the state will pay for a private contractor to work with the corps.
Staff writer Bob Marshall contributed to this story.