Shell Island, La. -- Governor Bobby Jindal drew attention Thursday to three barrier islands rebuilt under his watch, taking local politicians and reporters on an aerial tour.
On Shell Island, where the Gulf of Mexico meets Barataria Bay, sand and dirt pour out of a dredge pipe that has made a long-distance journey. The pipe runs from a Great Lakes Dredging Company unit operating in the Mississippi River 22 miles away.
"Over the last five and a half years, we have restored, rebuilt every island in the lower Barataria Bay," Jindal told reporters.
Shell is the third island to be reassembled over the last couple of years through a combination of different programs, tapping into about $150 million in state, federal and BP funds.
Following the 2010 Gulf oil spill, Jindal pushed the U.S. Coast Guard and BP for $300 million to construct berms along the coastline, intended to block the oil. The well was capped before all of the money could be spent on the berms. However, BP agreed to a state request to use leftover funds for a berms-to-barrier island program, which provided money for the work on Shell Island and nearby Scofield Island months ago.
"This is a culmination of years and years of begging and planning," said Ryan Lambert, a charter boat captain active in coastal issues. "Now, it's finally coming true."
While Jindal conceded the barrier islands provide only limited protection against hurricanes, he noted they take the first blow from storm surge that otherwise would devastate marsh.
While Shell and Scofield were built with river sand in a first-of-its-kind project in Louisiana, contractors used material dredged from the Gulf to build back nearby Pelican Island in 2011.
"It's taking science and going back to nature with it," said Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph.
However, Jindal and other political leaders on the tour expressed frustration with the lack of federal funding for more coastal projects and with the federal permitting process.
The project currently underway puts back together only the eastern lobe of the old Shell Island. The state has the money for the western lobe of the island, planning to tap into a $1 billion "down payment" from BP to cover fines for the 2010 spill.
Normally, the state might simply redirect the pipe and continue pumping sediment. Instead, because that represents a new project, Louisiana's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority must wait on a federal permit.
"All this pipeline that's already been laid is going to have to be removed and put back," Jindal said.