Katrina lessons apparently not learned well enough
Residents all along the gulf coast, and especially metro New Orleans, are having a bad case of déjà vu right now. A month ago we first heard the news that an oil rig exploded and eventually sank in the gulf might be “leaking” oil into the water. The oil “leak” turned into an all out geyser, and now that problem has found a home squarely in the marshes of southern Louisiana.
Oil finally invades the marshes
The big news this week is that the oil has invaded the marshes south of New Orleans. The bad news is that the oil is not the light, fine crude or manageable “tar balls” that many were predicting. Instead the photos taken yesterday clearly show thick brown oil as dense as paint covering miles of delicate marshland and heading further inland.
And while residents are clearly frustrated with the ongoing crisis, local politicians are raging mad about many of the same issues we faced less than 5 years ago with the Katrina response.
Slow responses from federal government hampering efforts
Local political officials including Plaquemine’s Parish President Billy Nungesser, St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro and Governor Bobby Jindal have been critical of the federal response to their pleas for emergency help. In an interview on WWL Radio Nungesser indicated that federal officials are sticking to their procedures for issuing permits and still reviewing requests made weeks ago that could have been granted and potentially stemmed the damage which is currently taking place.
Local officials are still awaiting approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for an emergency permit needed to dredge sand from nearby areas for the construction of a line of sand berms which would act as protective barrier islands to help block the oil. And while no one is quite sure how effective they would be, almost everyone agrees that sandy beaches are easier to clean than the broken marshes that make up much of Louisiana’s coast.
The New Ground Zero
Plaquemine’s Parish is home to towns like Buras and Venice which have been the scene of first response. However politicians all over the area have been actively telling anyone who would listen about the road blocks they are encountering when trying to obtain the help they need.
In the past few days, Senator Mary Landrieu has been questioning a federal regulation preventing local fisherman and other affected businesses from securing emergency loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA), despite the pledges of British Petroleum (BP) to put up the collateral needed to repay these loans.
Meanwhile David Vitter, Louisiana’s other senator, has been wrapped up in battles over flood protection and trying to advance funding of oil related dollars from oil royalties to help pay for the cleanup.
Perhaps the most unfortunate politician has been new mayor Mitch Landrieu who has been forced to toss out any plans he may have had for his first days in office to focus largely on the local response to the oil spill.
Apparently no lessons learned from Katrina
Local residents and politicians are clearly disgusted from hearing that things like “procedure” and “red tape” are holding up the process. This oil spill crisis, much like Katrina, has a time sensitive element to it in that the faster the response the better changes of minimizing damages. However in this case, nearly 4 weeks after the initial incident, help is still slow in coming and the residents, wildlife and marshes of the coastal Gulf South will be the ones to suffer for it.