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Mud in Louisiana’s Eye: Jindal and Nungesser Mix a Toxic Recipe for the Wetlands

Nesting pelicans in sight of containment oil boom in distance. (photo: Michael Whitney, Firedoglake.com)

Today the Coast Guard took a break from following BP’s orders to chase the press away from BP’s crime scenes, long enough to approve wasting millions of dollars building toxic mud pies that will starve or further poison Gulf wetlands. Yep, the Coast Guard’s throwing a poisoned life preserver to two Republican Louisiana pols who’ve spent years scheming to build a wall of toxic mud pies intended to cut off Louisiana’s wetlands from the tides the wetlands require for survival .

Why do the Cajun Canutes say they have to do this? To preserve the wetlands, of course. They have to destroy the wetlands in order to save them.

Louisiana’s managed to hatch politicians so terminally stupid they make the Army Corps of Engineers look competent. Now the Coast Guard and EPA are following up with their own bundle of incompetence.

The two Louisiana pols wriggling to the surface from the latest batch are Republican Governor Bobby Jindal and Plaquemines Parish’s president, Republican Billy Nungesser. Showing classic GOP Shock Doctrine values, the two of them latched onto BP’s oil catastrophe like tapeworms sticking to your intestinal walls.

More than two weeks ago, the “Globe and Mail”’s Josh Wingrove–clearly a brave journalist with a well-controlled gag reflex — warned the cerebrate world what his political endoscopy revealed:

In a plan revealed Saturday, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Billy Nungesser, president of the local coastal municipality, are asking for funding to dredge up sand and mud from across the shallows of Louisiana and move it into a series of barriers, or fake reefs, that would rise about two metres above the ocean surface.

In what the Governor called a “very innovative plan,” crews would plant trees along new artificial reefs with sandy beaches to slow the progress of storms and keep future oil slicks off inner shores.

And they’d do it in a matter of months.

“What we are proposing is the re-establishment of our coastal barrier shorelines as an important defence against the intrusion of oil…

“What we’d do is basically pump the sand into gaps along our historic island chains,” Gov. Jindal said. “It’d be so much easier for us to clean the oil off the sand rather than deal with it on our interior, in our wetlands, in our marshes.”

They will seek an emergency measure to bypass an environmental impact study, to get to work fast–“in days or weeks, if not months,” Gov. Jindal said.

The idea was developed in consultation with unidentified experts from the Netherlands and has already been informally proposed to BP and the Coast Guard, he said. It will be brought to Washington by Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson, a New Orleans native, Mr. Nungesser said.

Those “unidentified experts from the Netherlands”? Turns out they’re officials from the world’s third-largest dredging company. I guess these thrifty Dutch bandits consultants won’t let a crisis go to waste, especially one that can get them millions by creating giant toxic mud pies.

If there’s a competition for most ecologically illiterate proposal of the 21st century, the Jindal-Nungesser plan must be a leading candidate.

The plan, which they were pushing for years before BP’s oil catastrophe, will dry out the wetlands like mud on desert roads.

…[O]fficials in Louisiana’s southern parishes have been pushing for a series of gigantic levees, starting with a 72-mile project known as Morganza-to-the-Gulf. Morganza (the name of a small inland community) would protect the city of Houma as well as a series of tiny bayou towns, but it would also cut off 135,000 acres of wetlands from their natural tidal exchanges. Scientists say the project would make the area even less safe by ravaging natural storm buffers, amplifying storm surges and encouraging a false sense of security. First proposed in 1992, the project was finally authorized by Congress last year. “It’s just insane,” says Tulane law professor Oliver Houck, who has been warning about the vanishing coast for decades. “The politicians get tears in their eyes when they talk about restoring wetlands, but at the same time they push this mega-levee system to destroy our natural protections.”

And which Louisiana pols were pushing Morganza-to-the-Gulf and other too-dumb-to-succeed schemes?

Bobby Jindal and Billy Nungesser.

What keeps grasses and trees rooted in riparian and tidewater islets is soil–a living ecosystem. Not fill dirt. Jindal’s proposed barrier islands will have all the viability of mine-tailing mounds sprayed with fertilizer and grass seeds: a combination that will grow sprouts on your roof, but will never grow a lawn.

The shallows of the Gulf Coast are the anterooms of the Coast’s aquatic nurseries. Just under the surface, the shallows are lined with decades of toxic goo. Digging them up to protect against BP’s oil volcano makes as much sense as pulverizing neonatal ICU entrances to protect against asbestos in the hospital walls.

You see, the sediment that Nungesser and Jindal want to dig up has one other small problem. That sediment that washes down the Lower Mississippi? It’s thoroughly mixed with long-lasting and deadly persistent organic pollutants.

Not “organic” as in your local farmers’ market. “Organic” as in your local college’s chemistry lab. Sadly for southern Louisiana, the Mississippi carries the toxic pesticide runoff from the entire Corn Belt. Much of that waste travels right down to the Gulf. Worse still, for decades, the oil, gas and chemical industries clustered around the lower Mississippi’s “cancer alley” dumped many of the most deadly toxic wastes we’ve has ever created right into the water. The poor river, in turn, carries them downstream, and the uncounted tons of deadly goo irretrievably mix in with the sediments that make up the “shallows” off of Louisiana’s coast.

Those are the very same “shallows” Nungesser and Jindal want to heap up in piles off Louisiana’s already poisoned coast. It’s the perfect mechanism to ensure winds, tides and hurricanes carry the once-buried toxins inland to the marshes and wetlands. Yes, the ones these crackpots purport to be saving.

The only thing more pathetic would be for Lisa Jackson to ferry this back to DC.

Oh, wait… Guess that already happened.

How noble of New Orleans native Nungesser to set forth to restore the Louisiana barrier islands and wetlands that the oil and gas industries have destroyed over the last decades.

Offshore drilling operations carve out channels in coastal wetlands for exploration as well as for transporting resources back to the mainland. Those channels in turn provide a route for Gulf waters to wash inland, the salinity eventually killing trees and other plants that help stabilize land, further exacerbating its erosion.

To date, oil and gas companies have dug an estimated 10,000 miles of canals across the state’s wetlands. Since 1983, Shell Oil alone has dredged about 22,000 acres of Louisiana wetlands for placement or maintenance of pipeline canals and other production facilities. Environmental advocates recently tried to present the company with a bill for $362 million for the damage.

What motivates Billy Nungesser? Could it be deep filial eco-guilt? After all, Billy’s daddy retired from the family business, which serviced the oil and gas companies that did so much to destroy the wetlands and barrier islands that survived the Corps’ onslaught.

He was a retired executive with General Marine and Catering, a family business that serviced the offshore industry…

He was a former president of the Westbank Petroleum Club.

Serving the oilmen’s own club—now, that’s loyalty!

And Billy’s following in his dad’s oily wake– making a pile from the corporations that poison Louisiana’s people, lands and waters while destroying the coast’s natural defenses:

While working in the offshore catering business, Nungesser found an alternative use for metal ship containers. In 1991, he established General Marine Leasing Company. The first of its kind, the business modified and outfitted containers as improved, portable living quarters for offshore workers. The company was successful, growing to employ 200 people and reaching $20 million in sales.

So is Billy Nungesser spurred into sudden action by a mid-life conversion to deep green values?

“This plan is on its way to Washington,” said Mr. Nungesser, clutching a copy of the plan to his chest, and hoping the EPA waives any lengthy environmental assessments, which he feels are unnecessary.

Sure doesn’t look like Billy’s signed up for EarthFirst! or Greenpeace. That plan on the way to Washington? Where does it come from? Turns out the plan’s an expansion of Nungesser’s earlier proposal.

The plan has been in the works locally for three years, Mr. Nungesser said, and will be modified and expanded to protect the region.

“This is nothing new,” said Mr. Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, the municipality encompassing many of these coastal communities south of New Orleans.

The barrier islands are viewed as a permanent and more effective alternative to “booms,” the inflatable barriers being stung out in marshes daily to keep oil away. The islands would last “forever,” Mr. Nungesser said.

Nope, nothing new: The magnitude is greater, but the stupid burns just as brightly.

Plaquemines Parish officials on Wednesday presented a homegrown hurricane protection and marsh-restoration plan to the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority that aims to reduce storm surge in the parish by as much as five feet in the next two years.

The hitch: figuring out how to pay for it.

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser and two consultants who developed the plan over the past year presented it as a way to build up land in the short term and prevent flooding risks that could force buildings to be elevated as high as 18 feet in the vulnerable parish.

For a while, it looked like even the Corps wouldn’t swallow Morganza-to-the-Gulf. In 2008 Michael Grunwald, the journalist who wrote for the WaPo on the Corps failures that allowed Katrina to flood New Orleans, described how the whole project was coming to a halt:

But Morganza no longer seems as inevitable as it did last year. The Corps has agreed to review its original cost-benefit study, and a preliminary analysis suggested that building the levee according to real 100-year standards could cost $10.7 billion — a 1,200% increase. Meanwhile, Governor Jindal has convened a science panel to review whether Morganza is consistent with restoration plans.

Now, BP’s massive oil volcano gives oily pols like Jindal and Nungesser the perfect Shock Doctrine opportunity to dust the toxic waste off their failed plans. And they’re hoping the rest of us will pay billions for giant toxic mud pies designed to plug up gaps between the barrier islands, ensuring the wetlands trapped behind the barrier will become giant toxic ponds.

Why?

The locals’ review of the Morganza-to-the-Gulf project dug up the answers:

Morganza is a system of levees, floodgates, locks and other structures designed to protect Terrebonne and western Lafourche from storm-related flooding.

During a presentation in which parish Planning and Zoning Director Pat Gordon and Parish President Michel Claudet reviewed Terrebonne’s potential economic growth, panel members quizzed officials about the safeguards in place to protect wetlands inside the levee from development.

Terrebonne is about 90 percent environmentally sensitive marsh and wetlands, said Gordon, and only about 8 percent of parish land is suitable for development.

Of that small amount of developable land, Gordon said, 44 percent is vacant, open land ready for the substantial growth the parish is experiencing.

Though officials with the parish stressed that development outside of existing forced-drainage systems in lower bayou communities is very unlikely, at least one panel member expressed skepticism.

“Let’s assume that this levee goes up,” said Technical Committee Chairman Robert Twilley, an ecologist at the Wetland Biogeochemistry Institute at Louisiana State University. “You’re saying that we’re not going to invest in any more forced-drainage systems, now that it is economically feasible, with all the growth you expect in this area?”…

The notion of building a levee that snakes down to encompass small, static bayou communities provoked more questions from the panel.

“Let’s be very candid and put it all out there,” said Shirley Laska, professor of environmental sociology at University of New Orleans. “Why do we need to build a wall to protect all this wetland?”

Short answer: We don’t. The benefits from Morganza and this weekend’s insane plan to choke off other wetlands with toxic mud pies will flow to the Corps, the civil engineering and construction contractors who always back the Corps’ make-work projects, their local subcontractors and the local firms that supply the offshore operations. Firms like Billy Nungesser’s and his family’s.

Louisiana’s people will be stuck with a double helping of toxic waste: They’ll get the oil from BP’s catastrophe and a dredged-up dose of dioxins, PCBs, pesticides and other lovely specimens of the most toxic poisons ever created. Just in time for hurricane season to wash the whole mess into the wetlands Jindal and Nungesser pretend they want to save, by cutting off the tides that keep them alive.

If the toxic mud pies Jindal and Nungesser have spent years scheming to build somehow survive the hurricane season, the wetlands they are using as tiddlywinks for their land grab will be cut off from the ocean that the tidelands require for life. The barrier will be by a wall of toxic mud, covered with poisonous dispersants and oil.

In other words, a wall of Superfund sites too toxic for safe disposal anywhere. The only place to put them will be right back in the poisoned Gulf, so they can wash up again next year.

Poor Louisiana. So far from God, and so close to Cancer Alley and toxic pols.

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Kirk Murphy

Kirk Murphy

terrestrial obligate aerobe with endoskeleton (bony) and bilateral symmetry.

chordate, bipedal, warm-blooded, mammalian, placental (origin), opposable thumbs.

not (yet) extinct.

indigenous habitat: California Live Oak.

current habitat: Central California Coast (most northerly aspect).... 'northwest of the new world, east of the sea'

potential habitats: all potential habitats critically endangered (due to global climate change).

ailurophilic - hence allergic rhinitic.

contact: kirkmurphy@gmail.com

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