Errant oil boom doing more harm than good in La.'s marshes

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by Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News

wwltv.com

Posted on September 23, 2010 at 5:35 PM

BAY JIMMY, La.-- Time and tides are helping to take a toll on Louisiana's sensitive marshes, which are dealing with not just an onslaught from oil, but also damage from the boom meant to protect it.

"With the tide, it's just been taken back up here in the marsh," said Plaquemines Parish Coastal Zone Management Director P.J. Hahn. "So, you can see how much damage it's doing being left behind out here."

At the height of the oil spill, crews laid out nearly two million feet of boom along the Louisiana coast. Now, only a fraction of that remains, about 100,000 feet, located around some of the most fragile pieces of land in the state.

"Much of that is still around some sensitive areas, some rookeries," said U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Paul Zunkunft, the federal on-scene coordinator for the oil spill.

Zunkunft said boom that started out as a protective measure has now become a problem in some cases, as old boom lingers on top of already stressed marsh grasses.

"That was my very concern as we were approaching and now very deep into hurricane season now, is that boom would be raised up on a surge tide and then dropped on that marsh," Adm. Zunkunft. "What we don't want to do is walk into that marsh to recover it. When we step on that marsh grass or the cane grass, we kill the root system."

It is one of the reasons the Coast Guard has been working to retrieve the intrusive boom by chopper.

"We're actually using logging helicopters to hover over that boom and recover that boom, to minimize our footprint, in fact leave no footprint in that marsh as we recover it," he said.

However, that presents its own set of issues. Some of the places where boom washed into the marsh are also the same places birds call home.

"One of the concerns we have right now is some of that boom is near nesting birds that are right now in the very peak of their nesting season," Zunkunft said. "Some of these are migratory birds. So, just our workers going in there, removing that boom, does stress that wildlife."

In those cases, the boom won't be removed until mid-October. The hopes are that the migratory birds will have moved on to other areas by then.
 

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