By Mike Robichaux, MD
Following the April 20, 2010, explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and other public officials began a series of press conferences at which they discussed the impending crisis of the oil spill off the Louisiana coast. Within a very short time the governor began flaunting his knowledge over matters of which he had little or no experience. After establishing his counterfeit credentials to a gullible media, he began a well-organized and dishonest attack on the federal government for the government’s lack of response to the unfolding tragedy.
What the governor and his pals failed to mention was that the responsibility for oil spills involving the state lay within the office of the Governor. Bobby Jindal had recently eviscerated the state’s oil spill coordinator's office
, having cut it’s $750,000 budget the preceding year. The state’s Oil Spill Contingency Plans were a farce and should have been an object of derision. The Governor’s plans contained blank charts and a section that was supposed to be a plan for a “WORST CASE SCENARIO.” The only entry in this section was a note that stated, “to be developed.” There were several other sections labeled “to be developed” in different areas of the document.
In spite of the Governor’s dismal preparation for the disaster, initial coordination between the Governor’s Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office, the Coast Guard and a committee of federal, state and local officials working under the Joint Command commenced, with the Oil Spill Coordinating Committee performing well. With little, if any, justification, Governor Jindal and his minions began a non-stop attack on the Coast Guard, the EPA, the Corps of Engineers and President Obama.
Ignoring much of what was written in his own contingency plan, the Governor began making decisions on the fly. He and his sidekick, Billy Nungesser, demanded that common sense (common sense being defined as their opinions) be applied to extremely complicated issues. These two Monday-morning quarterbacks felt that they understood tidal flow and currents, natural movements of sands, differences in fill materials and other matters that mere mortals take a lifetime of experience to learn. The Governor substituted political solutions for scientific experiences and the rest is history.
From the beginning it was difficult for knowledgeable people to take the Governor seriously. However his ability to lie and his willingness to create stories that bore no resemblance to reality played well with a pliant media. CNN played along with Bobby’s charade and should get special notice for its miserable reporting on this issue.
Long before the first oil hit the coast, Governor Jindal requested 950 miles of boom, or about one and one half times the world’s supply and three times what his own Southeast Louisiana area contingency plan said would be required to boom the state’s entire coastline.
Unfortunately, no one was willing to point out the absurdity of the governor’s requests and he was allowed to continue criticizing the federal government when it was his own incompetence that was primarily responsible for the early confusion.
It also became apparent that the governor was a great self-promoter who reveled in denigrating the President for whatever shortcoming the governor could dream up each day. His daily press conferences, held in the coastal communities most affected by the spill, pointed out shortcomings of the federal response and flaunted his common sense and his illusionary problem solving skills.
Soon after the spill, the Governor came up with an absurd plan to build a Maginot line of levees across the coast to prevent oil from ever reaching the shore. The plan was laughable, but the governor unabashedly submitted the request to the Corps of Engineers.
It needs to be understood that the State of Louisiana has some of the most experienced and talented wetlands scientists in the world and these individuals were available to the governor on a moment’s notice. He could literally walk to the LSU campus and have a dozen or so enthusiastic scientists at his fingertips. Instead, he chose to ignore these brilliant individuals completely and relied on a group of yes people from his own administration.
Within a few days the governor’s daily press conferences evolved into fierce criticism of the President and the federal government on a new topic. The federal government was not paying adequate attention to his barrier island plan. The Coast Guard and the EPA obviously realized the absurdity of his application but were not in a position to defend themselves while staring into the faces of rabble-rousing politicians.
On May 11, Governor Jindal submitted a three page permit request for his levee scheme and when the Corps of Engineers didn’t immediately approve of his original plan (which would have cost approximately $1 Billion and would have had a devastating effects on our coastline) the governor increased his criticism in his daily news conferences and threatened to do the job himself, risking the possibility of going to jail in doing so. His arrogance and determination to implement such an absurd plan in such a hurry was initially difficult to understand.
Under enormous political pressure, a much revised and limited version of the original proposal was approved and BP eventually agreed to pay $360 million for this plan of dubious merit.
Once the plans for the project were publicized, scientists from throughout the state and nation began commenting and it was discovered that few, if any, scientist with knowledge of barrier islands or of this type of program had been consulted. Most of these experts feared that the project would do far more harm than good and questioned the wisdom and incentive for using critical funding for such a boondoggle operation.
As details of the plans emerged it was revealed that the SHAW group had obtained a no-bid contract for implementing the project. (Similarly, dredging companies were also awarded no-bid contracts for their services.) You might remember the SHAW group from the Pulitzer Prize winning publicity it received following Hurricane Katrina.
Several Multi-million dollar no-bid contracts were awarded to SHAW and, under one contract, it was revealed that SHAW was receiving $175 dollars a square for the application of blue tarps to damaged roofs while the workers actually performing the jobs received only a small fraction of this sum. A SHAW publication indicates that the company was paid for 300,000 squares of blue tarps. (At $175 per square, this amounted to over $52 million for blue tarps alone!) When FEMA began assisting in permanent repairs of roofs it was learned that they paid between $170 and $180 per square for roof repairs with asphalt shingles. Thus, slapping a blue tarp on a roof in a few minutes was more costly than total roof replacement!
After the governor was forced to alter his original barrier plans due to its incompetent design, the Berm from Hell project was begun. Initially, the contractor and the Governor refused to follow the guidelines of the permit and the project was delayed for several days while the Governor ranted and raved about having to adhere to the plans he had agreed to a few days earlier.
In order to save face (and after the fact) a panel of local coastal scientists was put together by the governor to direct the handling of the project. But even some members of that panel have expressed deep skepticism about the plan, though none wanted to be quoted on the matter.
While all of this wrangling was going on, the state legislature, smelling a rat, overwhelmingly passed legislation requiring the Governor to make the records of his financial dealings involving the oil spill available to the public. On June 25, the governor vetoed the bill citing one of his weaker fantasies as the reason for his action.
It is now readily apparent why the Governor clamored for immediate construction of his project and we may never know how he has divided up the $360 million dollars in spoils he will be getting from BP.
Bobby Jindal has a major crisis on his hands and, rather than implementing and encouraging projects that are being shown to work, he is promoting work that is clearly political in design and objective. He has purposely alienated the President who has patiently tolerated his tantrums and who has shown more attention to the state than any president in our history. The New York Times recently pointed
out that Jindal has been alone among the coastal governors for his publicly critical stance toward the President and other federal agencies.
Bobby Jindal needs to put his fundraising and king making ambitions aside while this crisis exists.
With regard to Jindal’s insistence that his spending remain hidden, he has requested over a billion dollars of assistance from BP with no clear indications as to where he plans to spend the money. BP would be wise to place their money in the care of a skilled administrator who will see to it that the money will go into the hands of the working men and women of the state and not into the money bags of the Governor and his politically connected friends.
Once the BP oil spill is controlled there should be enough information to know whether these land barriers are effective. They have already broken down in the western part of the state in an area that so far has been spared any damage by the oil spill. A few days ago, while ignoring his damaged barriers in the West, Governor Jindal proudly reported that the sand berms on the eastern part of the coast suffered no damage. He failed to mention that the eastern berms were about 500 miles from the landfall of the storm.
Interesting observations on this subject were made by Len Bar, a noted wetlands authority who served in the Governor’s office of Coastal Activities under 5 governors and who publishes LACOASTPOST. Len first covered the subject before the storm. On June 28, in a posting titled “The ‘Great Wall’ of Holly Beach.” The following comments came from a contributor to Len’s paper who had noted a wall being erected along Holly Beach in southwest Louisiana.
“Between Holly Beach and the Ferry landing, where the Gulf is only a few dozen yards south of the road, in some places the scrapers had scooped up all of the beach vegetation along with the sand. I’m sure that more than a few beach nesting birds contributed eggs or young to the contents of the boxes.”
The contributor went on to make the following prescient observations:
“I have no idea whose bright idea this is, but it’s a major Charlie Foxtrot. It seems like an idea a little kid in a big chair thought up with a box of crayons.”
“I don’t know what this wall is supposed to accomplish but I assume that it’s some politician’s way of ‘doing something.’ Maybe time will prove me wrong, but at this point I’m willing to say that whoever is behind this wall is a world class idiot.”
“Oh, yeah, and I would bet that it’s costing a ton. I don’t know what’s going on but I suspect that coastal experts were left out to avoid unpopular views that someone didn’t want to hear.”
I assume that the writer of this piece now knows who the idiot he described actually is. It’s one thing to discuss your observations with friends and then have your predictions actually happen. However, when you put your predictions in writing and they come true a few days later, it is indeed a special occasion.
Dr. Bahr’s comments in a post after the storm were as follows:
“Let’s assess the facts: the Holly Beach area, so far not threatened by BP oil, was lined by Hesco baskets filled with sand mined from natural chenier ridges that provide vital natural protection from storm surge and much of the sand has now washed away. Way to go sand berm advocates!”
In the near future, if the levees do not appear to be working as promised, the Governor’s shoreline destruction project should be scrapped immediately and the money frozen. A group of wetland scientists and administrators should then be appointed by someone outside of the Governor’s Office to review the issue and to immediately apply the funds to the creation of REAL barrier islands and other appropriate structures throughout the gulf coast.
All contracts, whether they are for engineering, architectural or structural work, should be obtained through the bidding process and the governor should be excluded from involvement in this activity.
Governor Jindal came into office promising to clean up corruption in government and to implement ethics reforms that were to be beyond reproach. His record has shown that his reforms have actually weakened both our ethics laws and their enforcement and he has excluded himself from any scrutiny with this farsical legislation. Like so many politicians before him, Bobby Jindal has revealed himself to be the criminal he promised he would protect us from.
The author of the “Great Wall of Holly Beach” concluded his comments with the following:
“I don’t care which party makes a bonehead move. Every major player involved in this fiasco federal, state, and most importantly, BP has been less than honest and less than effective. Seeing the National Guard on the beach, I wondered whether the wall was a knee-jerk reaction to Governor Jindal having been caught assigning thumb-twiddling duty to 5,000 National Guardsmen assigned to clean up the spill.”
“If I’d seen Obama filling in the sand wall yesterday, I would’ve booed him. If I’d seen my own mom driving the earth-mover, I’d have given her hell, too. When someone does something stupid, don’t ask what party they belong to.”
“No matter who is behind this project, it is NOT better than doing nothing. It’s doing something so someone can claim credit, an eight mile long campaign poster.”