The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will not allow land barriers to be built to protect the state’s coastline, Plaquemines Parish Billy Nungesser told The Lens today.
“They turned it down,” Nungesser said. “They denied the plan to do the barrier islands, so I don’t know, so we’ll have to come up with something else. We’re going to plan B, but I don’t know what plan B is.”
The project was heavily pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has said it’s the best way to protect the coastline.
Nungesser said he was given the bad news late Friday by Corps Col. Alvin Lee, who likewise advocated for the barriers. The new land masses, similar to levees, would collect oil before it reached fragile coastal wetlands.
Contacted Saturday, though, Lee said his agency is still evaluating the request and has not denied the necessary permit, though the approval of the entire plan is outside of his authority. The Corps is charged with evaluating such permit requests, which calls for bringing in massive amounts of dredged material from up to 100 miles away, to ensure they comply with the federal Clean Water Act.
Nungesser and Jindal want a 90-mile sand barrier to block oil from infiltrating the marsh east of the Mississippi River. Some of that oil already has encroached wetlands in the Pass a Loutre area. The barrier island would prevent a deeper saturation level of oil as it becomes harder to contain.
“I’ve been lied to about pumping this sediment for the islands,” Nungesser said. “Not once has even so many environmentalists agreed on something – not one has stood up and said, ‘Don’t do this barrier island, the risk is too great.’ I think BP got to them.”
Lee said the entire decision is out of his hands.
“I’m the permit decision-maker,” Lee said. “If you’re asking about regulatory-permit authority under the Clean Water Act, we have not denied that permit. I don’t have any comment on any other denial or permits for this plan. We have nothing to do with whether the entire plan will be approved.”
Corp spokeswoman Amanda Jones said that the barrier island is “not a Corps project,” but a state project.
She said the agency is evaluating the plan under its emergency permit procedures. The state plan already has been greatly modified based on Corps comment. The Corps is now evaluating that modified plan, she said.
She doesn’t know why Nungesser said the Corp rejected the plan.
“We’ve been saying all along that it’s under evaluation, and no decision has been made,” she said. “I’m not sure why anyone has said otherwise.”