In a small nibble at what is expected to be a very large apple, federal and state officials announced approval Wednesday of the first $57 million for projects to reverse the damage caused by the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, including $28 million for Louisiana projects. Louisiana's share will build more than 100 acres of wetlands in Plaquemines Parish, place oyster cultch on six public seed beds in several parishes, and upgrade an oyster hatchery on Grand Isle.
The money is part of a $1 billion "early restoration" payment that BP pledged as partial compensation for damage to natural resources caused by the oil from the catastrophic failure of its Macondo well.
The projects were approved by a committee of trustees representing the five Gulf Coast states and the federal departments of Interior and Commerce, and by BP. Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the trustees and the parties responsible for the spill are required to complete a "Natural Resources Damage Assessment" that measures damage to resources and recommends ways to compensate for them. BP and other parties responsible for the spill may have to pay as much as $20 billion in damages.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the projects during a news conference called to announce the results of the first sale of federal offshore oil leases in the Gulf since the BP disaster.
The news conference was held at Al Sunseri's 135-year-old P&J Oyster Co. in the French Quarter, which was forced to dramatically curtail business in the aftermath of the spill because of both a lack of oysters and public fears that Louisiana oysters were contaminated.The oyster cultch will be placed on 850 acres of public seed beds at six locations: 3-Mile Bay and Drum Bay in St. Bernard Parish, Lake Fortuna and South Black Bay on the east bank of Plaquemines, Hackberry Bay in Lafourche Parish, and Sister or Caillou Lake in Terrebonne Parish. The seed beds are used as a source of oyster larvae by owners of private leases in several parishes, who make up the bulk of Louisiana's oyster harvesters.
The state's oyster hatchery at the Department of Wildlife & Fisheries laboratory on Grand Isle also will be improved as part of the project.
The oyster project is designed to offset the effects of oil contamination of some oyster beds, and damage to others during efforts to block oil from moving into Louisiana marshes.
The state opened numerous freshwater diversion structures along the Mississippi River in an effort to keep oil from moving into wetlands, and the freshwater hurt numerous oyster beds. Garret Graves, senior adviser on coastal issues to Gov. Bobby Jindal, said that because it was a step taken to fight the spilled oil, the damage it caused is considered by Louisiana to be the result of the spill.
Mike Voisin, owner of Motivatit Seafoods Inc. and a member of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force, said the state's oyster industry lobbied for inclusion of the oyster projects, adding that oyster production this year is down 65 percent.
"This is the trustees recognizing that damage to the oyster industry (from the spill) is an important issue, and BP also concurring that it's an important issue," Voisin said. "It's not the end, but it's a big step in the right direction."
The Lake Hermitage project in Plaquemines Parish will allow about 70 acres of marsh terraces that were to be built as part of an ongoing federal-state project to be replaced with 104 acres of unbroken marsh. An existing pipeline used to pump sediment mined from the Mississippi River will be used to fill in the project area, which is west of Pointe a la Hache.
Projects approved in other states include $11 million for oyster cultch and $2.6 million for an artificial reef in Mississippi; $9.4 million for marsh creation and $1.1 million for coastal dune improvements in Alabama; and $4.4 million for boat ramps and $600,000 for coastal dunes in Florida.
The projects are outlined in an early restoration plan and environmental assessment available at www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov.
The public will have 60 days to comment on the projects, ending on Feb. 14. Public meetings will be held in Louisiana on Jan. 31, Feb. 1 and Feb. 2.
Mark Schleifstein can be reached at email@example.com or 504.826.3327.
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