Sand berms a dubious solution: A guest column by Len Bahr

panic, grandstanding, and drama

On the basis of 22 years of academic training and experience in coastal science and 18 years of policy experience in the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities, I’m strongly opposed to the governor’s sand berm project for the following nine reasons:

1) Absence of science: Vague plans for the sand barriers were hastily drawn up by “outside experts” from Holland, with no input from Louisiana coastal scientists. Project details subsequently released have been universally panned by these scientists.

2) Questionable justification: The sand dredging project was proposed by and heavily lobbied by vested dredging interests, and it reeks of potential conflicts.

3) Opportunity cost: This emergency and temporary project will deplete and waste finite sand resources needed for a credible barrier shoreline nourishment project.

4) Environmental cost: Dredging holes in the very delta that we’re trying to restore is irrational.

5) Changes to natural flow regime: Attempting to barricade tidal passes speeds up water velocity, causing barrier island erosion and potentially sucking even more oil into the estuary.

6) Lengthy construction time: The contractors project a completion date nine months away, by which time deflecting BP oil could be a moot issue.

7) Sand berm fragility: Sand-filled Hesco baskets (a type of sand berm) completed three weeks ago by the Louisiana National Guard along Holly Beach to protect against BP oil washed away like sand castles during a glancing blow by Hurricane Alex.

8) Dubious benefits: A huge volume of crude oil has already drifted into the very marsh areas that would supposedly be protected by sand barriers. Completed berms could trap rather than repel some of this oil.

9) An alternative active response: Whether or not BP pays for the sand barrier project, there are more effective and risk-free ways to spend $350 million. For example, I estimate that for that amount 2 million tons of oil-absorbing hay could be spread on the oil by boats and planes, soaking up perhaps 4 million tons of oil, then raked up by shrimp boats for onshore disposal.

I’m not alone in challenging this project, although I can afford to be more vocal than most of my science colleagues. Many of them, along with their employers, fear the financial consequences of alienating Gov. Jindal, who tolerates no criticism of his sand berm fantasy.

Len Bahr, Ph.D., is a former LSU marine sciences faculty member who served 18 years as a coastal policy adviser to Louisiana governors from Buddy Roemer to Bobby Jindal. He edits

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