State allocates BP oil leak funding

Four barrier islands and two fishery research stations will be beneficiaries of $340 million in funding approved as early restoration money in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gov. Bobby Jindal announced Tuesday.

The money is part of the $1 billion BP committed in April 2011 to spend in Gulf States affected by the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The commitment of the down payment was a way to get restoration projects started earlier instead of waiting years for a Natural Resource Damage Assessment to be completed. The NRDA process assesses damage from oil spills and the responsible party funds restoration of those resources.

Jindal said during a news conference that although funding approval has been a frustratingly slow process, the $340 million will restore four important barrier islands and advance fisheries knowledge.

The barrier islands that are in line for restoration and the amount of funding for each are: Whiskey Island in Terrebonne Parish, $110 million; Chenier Ronquille, $35 million; and Shell Island, $101 million, both on the west bank of Plaquemines Parish; and $72 million for Breton Island on the east bank of Plaquemines Parish.

“These barrier islands are our first line of defense,” Jindal said, referring to the important part they play in reducing storm surge and saltwater intrusion into interior marshes. “They’ve been eroding at an alarming rate.”

The announced work is in addition to several other projects in the works or under construction for various barrier islands along the coast.

In addition, $22 million of the BP funds will be used to establish two Fish Stock Research and Enhancement Centers, Jindal said. One will be housed in Lake Charles and will focus on red fish, speckled trout and flounder, he said and the second will be in Point a la Hache in Plaquemines Parish and will focus on baitfish such as shrimp, cocahoe and croaker.

Louisiana has one of the most productive fisheries in the nation and protecting and enhancing that is important, Jindal said.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said in prepared statements that approval of the $340 million by BP is a good step toward restoration, but cautioned that it’s not the only step that is needed.

“But to truly achieve justice for the Gulf after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, we need a resolution to the civil case against BP so the projected billions in fines can begin flowing,” Landrieu said in a news release.

Vitter added in a separate news release that he is concerned BP might be dragging its feet on the Natural Resources Damage Assessment process, which measures damage to be repaired after an oil spill.

“This payment being announced today is certainly a good step to ensure that the NRDA money, for which Louisiana should be the greatest benefactor, is spent appropriately,” Vitter said in a prepared statement.

In a news release from BP, Executive Vice President for Response and Environmental Restoration Laura Folse said, “We are extremely pleased to have reached agreement with the trustees on the new projects, which will provide significant long-term benefits to the environment and the people of Louisiana.”

Speakers at Tuesday’s news conference Tuesday included several coastal parish presidents, all of whom had praise for the barrier island work.

“Only two things can hurt us in Terrebonne Parish, flooding and insurance rates,” Michel Claudet, the parish’s president, said.

The parish has moved aggressively to address those issues by elevating homes, building levees and more, he said, and the barrier island restoration will add to that “multiple lines of defense” strategy.

Although there is still money left from the $1 billion initial commitment, Jindal said this will be likely the largest award Louisiana will see from that money since other states also share it.

The projects will go through public comment periods, but the construction should be done fairly quickly, Jindal said. The projects range in completion time from the quickest of nine months to the longest one, which could be about two years, he said.

“These are projects that are ready to go,” Jindal said.