PLAQUEMINES, La. -- 20 miles down the Mississippi River from Venice at the mouth of South Pass where it meets the Gulf of Mexico, large patches of oil stain the beach. Bright, slimy stains cover nearby rocks where thousand of birds normally perch.
It is the arrival of the heavy oil at the coast that officials have dreaded.
“If I had been standing up, I’d have fell to my knees,” said Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser. “We got the call first thing this morning from one of our boats. We dispatched a helicopter out there. And it’s our greatest fear. It’s coming into the marsh lands.”
Cleanup crews scoured the affected area, filling bright yellow bags with contaminated debris, which is taken to a station area where it is placed in special containers by workers wearing protective gear.
But the site of oil stained marsh grass is a big fear.
“This is extremely concerning to us, because this is really home to 30 percent of the nation’s seafood. This coast produces 30 percent of the nation’s energy,” Jindal said.
“And you still get emotional about it. This is where I was born and raised, in south Louisiana, and you don’t want to see an area that you work in, and that you care about covered in oil,” said Capt. William Wall of Pellagic Charters.
Wall took us four miles off the coast, where we found rainbow colored, thin sheens of oil surrounded by thicker crude oil, colored red as if warning of catastrophe.
“Places like this can’t be wrote off. You can’t replace this. This has taken hundreds of year to become what it is,” Wall said. “I’m very worried.”
Jindal said this state is using seven levels of defense to keep the oil out of the marshes, but the best bet remains using dredges to turn broken barrier island chains into a solid line of sand to block the flow of oil. He’s making preparations even as he awaits for permission from the Army Corps of Engineers.
“We’ve also asked the Coast Guard to go ahead while we’re awaiting approval of the permit, to go ahead and approve the pre-mobilization of the dredges,” Jindal said.
It’s the heavier oil causing damage to the marsh lands that has Jindal and Nungesser worried. Plus, when they called the White House, they heard more predictions of what could come.
“They’re projecting more shoreline impact. We saw some areas today with Pass a Loutre. They’re projecting other areas as well in Plaquemines Parish, between South and Southwest Pass,” Jindal said. “They’re also projecting more impact in the Timbalier Bay area as well."
“We’ve lost that small battle,” Nungesser said. “We can’t lose this war.”
Nungesser said had the federal government took action when the idea to build dredges was first proposed, workers would probably already be at work on the dredges.