VENICE, Louisiana (Reuters) - The White House on Wednesday approved plans to construct several large offshore sand berms that BP Plc will fund to help buffer the Louisiana coast from the giant oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana’s governor said.
U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen told BP to pay for the five berms approved by the White House, in addition to one he and the Army Corps of Engineers approved last week. The British energy company later said it supported the six projects and would pay the estimated $360 million cost to build them.
The decision marked a victory for Jindal, a rising Republican star who has lobbied for weeks to win support for the plan even as he steadfastly criticized BP and the Obama administration for what he has called a sluggish response to the oil spill.
The growing petroleum slick has damaged more than 140 miles of Louisiana’s fragile coastline and largely shut down its seafood industry, idling thousands of fishermen.
Meanwhile, the BP offshore oil rig blowout and ensuing oil slick have posed a key test of the Obama administration’s ability to handle a rapidly unfolding crisis.
“Our federal government does not need to be making excuses for BP,” Jindal said at a news conference just moments before he received word of the White House decision. “Every day they wait, every day they make us wait, we’re losing our battle to protect our coast.”
The sand-berm construction plan essentially calls for the manufacture of six artificial barrier islands with sand dredged from the floor of the Gulf to help safeguard Louisiana’s fragile bayous and marshlands from encroaching oil.
Critics have questioned whether the berms can be built up quickly enough to keep more oil from washing ashore.
But supporters of the plan say the spill is likely to remain a threat for months and that the berms could prove crucial in holding back oil debris that would otherwise be swept inland by hurricanes.
As much as 19,000 barrels of oil (800,000 gallons or 3 million liters) a day has been pouring into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana since the rig drilling a BP well exploded six weeks ago, killing 11 workers.
Almost 4 million feet (1.2 million meters) of protective boom has been deployed to protect wetlands, but Jindal said it was not enough and that it was more effective to clean the oil from sand than from fragile marshes and other coastal ecosystems.
“The right thing for us to do is to fight this oil on our sand,” he said. “I’d much rather fight this oil on the sand than in our wetlands.”
He was speaking after touring the wetlands in Pass a Loutre, an area that he said had been fouled by heavy oil over two weeks ago and where the oil remained, underscoring the difficulty of the clean-up effort.
Jindal said the impact on wildlife in areas that normally teemed with insects, birds and fish was obvious and that you “could hear the silence and smell the fumes.”
Locals, worried for their future, applauded his efforts.
“Everybody is rallying around the governor,” said Mike Frenette, the head of the Venice Charter Boat and Guide Association. “His pleas and demands and concerns are about as truthful as you can get.”
Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Will Dunham