Gulf oil spill: Louisiana's berm plan bold but full of uncertainty
The plan to build 90 miles of sand berms to protect Louisiana wetlands from the Gulf oil spill is now getting under way. But it could take nine months and have unintended consequences.
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The berms, as well as the sea floor where dredges will scoop up vast quantities of material for the berms, could alter wave and current patterns and velocities in ways that could accelerate the region's already unsustainable rate of coastal erosion, says Gregory Stone, who heads the Coastal Studies Institute at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. "We really need to be careful about this," he says.Skip to next paragraph
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Scientists suggest an alternative
He and other researchers say they are keenly aware that the BP oil spill constitutes an environmental emergency demanding quick action. But the range of potential unintended consequences gives them pause.
He and colleagues have proposed he use of booms across deep inlets, combined with building up sand dikes from the bottom of those inlets, to buy a one or two weeks' time to conduct the modeling that would help answer some of he questions about unintended consequences.
He says he's aware of the reputation academics have for moving at what can seem like a snail's pace, but the region is loaded with the computer-simulation capabilities to move very quickly in providing a more thorough analysis of the berm plan.
One of the practical questions surrounding the project is the availability of dredges and barges for gathering, moving, and redepositing the sand.
During his press briefing at the White House Monday, Allen noted that the state and BP had worked out funding issues on the project. "There are a couple of barges that are starting to work right away," he said. "But I believe the first place they're going to start working is somewhere around the Chandeleur Islands because the sand source is close enough where they can get to work right away."
West of the Mississippi River, sand will have to come from farther offshore.
"That's a much longer process," he said.
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