The goal of St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis is to protect Lake Pontchartrain, which was only recently declared safe for all recreational activities after a two decade-long effort to clear the lake of toxic pollutants.
In this goal, he says, he has found a competent and willing partner in BP. It didn’t start that way, with Mr. Davis having to order and position thousands of feet of containment boom last week precisely because “nothing was being done by anyone.”
But since Davis and leaders from other parishes around the lake began taking action, “BP has really come on board with us, and now we have many more resources to work with, and they have a full-time representative on our team.”
The incident illustrates the confusion that has beset some relief efforts along the Gulf Coast and the promise of cooperation that remains.
The confusion has centered on a rumored broad emergency plan written by BP before the Deepwater Horizon oil rig ever blew out and collapsed into the Gulf of Mexico.
“BP and the Coast Guard apparently have had a detailed general plan on addressing a major oil spill in this area, and they’re adapting it to specific locations now,” says Chris Schieble of the University of New Orleans’ Nekton Research Laboratory, who claims to have seen the plan.
But BP has not made the plans public, and during the past week, a number of Louisiana state officials, including Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), have complained that the oil company has not made its plans explicit.
“They need to get this plan out because there’re a lot of people who want to see it,” says Mr. Schieble.
Instead, local leaders like Davis of St. Tammany Parish have had to take matters into their own hands. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill was expected to enter the lake by early this week. The parish needed to move fast.
“We weren’t getting any action from BP or the Coast Guard, so we signed contracts with a company and set up a last line of defense for the lake ourselves,” Davis says.
But much has changed during the past three days. “We’ve been working with BP representatives, and now we have a lot more resources.” said Davis.
Moreover, the winds has given Lake Pontchartrain a temporary respite. Strong northerly winds have pushed the oil slick toward the Mississippi and Alabama coasts, giving officials in Louisiana more time to protect its northeastern coast near the Pearl River.
Parish engineer Joe Shoemaker said plans now call for deploying booms from the Pearl River basin near the Mississippi state line to the Biloxi Wildlife Management Area, which would protect hundreds of square miles of additional wetlands between the Gulf and Lake Pontchartrain.
The cooperation with BP has been fruitful, says Davis: “We have several barges in the water, we have skimmer boats, we have 200,000 feet of containment boom that is on the way, we have crews coming.”