By Mark Moseley, The Lens opinion writer
Standing on the second floor of the Acme Oyster House alongside BP America President Lamar McKay, Gov. Bobby Jindal today announced that the state will use $140 million from BP to transform sand berms into barrier islands to protect the coast.
The money will be spent to enhance the berms with more dredged sand and add vegetation.
Jindal also announced that BP will provide $48 million for testing and advertising Louisiana seafood, along with another $30 million for promoting Louisiana tourism. The many state and local officials in attendance, including New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, praised the announcements.
Whether motivated by increasing political pressure or by thoughtful cost-benefit analysis, Jindal’s decision to alter his controversial sand berm strategy is significant.
Garrett Graves, the governor’s director of coastal activities, told The Lens that the administration’s “pivot” from temporary sand berms to more permanent barrier islands had been initially well-received by coastal and environmental groups.
“Everyone is pretty happy about it,” Graves said.
He added that the administration is still well aware of scientific estimates that 1 to 3 million barrels of oil is still in the Gulf, and officials believe that the barrier islands will protect coastal marshlands from both encroaching oil and hurricane storm surge.
Graves characterizing the administration’s change in strategy as a “pivot” is fine with me. (Critics might say that Jindal has “retreated” from his “bermdoggle.”) The important point is that Jindal isn’t feeling trapped by his militant rhetoric into throwing another $140 million into temporary berms that stopped little of the oil in the Gulf. Today’s announcement is a tacit admission by the Jindal administration that the best use of the berms at this point – along with the remaining BP berm money – is strengthening them to protect the coast from next year’s hurricanes rather than last summer’s oil.
Assuming the berms have been placed so as not to harmfully disrupt the natural tidal movements that nourish the coast, converting them into barrier islands to absorb storm surge seems like a smart move.
I’d be surprised if increased media attention over the past month on the sand berm issue hadn’t contributed to today’s decision.