BP oil spill fines may fund restoration of tiny island

P.J. Hahn, Plaquemines Parish Coastal Zone Management Dir., surveys the remains of an island in Cat Bay (Photo by John Snell)
P.J. Hahn, Plaquemines Parish Coastal Zone Management Dir., surveys the remains of an island in Cat Bay (Photo by John Snell)

Fines from the 2010 Gulf oil spill could rebuild a small island in Plaquemines Parish, assuming the parish government chooses to dedicate money on the restoration project.

Jerome Zeringue, Chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, told FOX 8 he is open to allowing the parish to tap into funds from the RESTORE Act. Under the law passed in the wake of the spill, 80 percent of fines from the spill will flow to Gulf Coast states, including a portion of the pie shared by local governments.

"They've committed to use some of that funding for the purposes, helping re-establish and rebuild Cat Island," Zeringue said.

Plaquemines Parish has cobbled together roughly $3 million from state and private sources, including Shell Oil, to restore one of the four islands heavily oiled in Cat Bay. However, that will cover only half the estimated cost of rebuilding one of the islands to 20 acres. Zeringue said he could not guarantee the available funding would cover all of the cost.

"I think it's going to be how much of their restore dollars they can allocate to it and what the state can match."

The islands of Cat Bay lay isolated, several miles from any other land mass, in an area that is subsiding rapidly. Although the islands were eroding long before the spill, Plaquemines Parish government blames oil damage for hastening their demise.

Far too small and isolated to play any role in hurricane protection, the islands were home to thousands of nesting birds, including pelicans, egrets, tricolored herons and various shore birds.

Early restoration money from BP will also pay for more ambitious plans to restore several larger islands along the Louisiana Coast.

In June, representatives of Gulf Coast states and several federal agencies approved a $600 million plan that includes dozens of projects. The trustees in the Natural Resources Damage Assessment process granted Louisiana the lion's share of the money - $318 million for four barrier islands: Whiskey Island, Cheniere Ronquille, Shell Island and North Breton Island.

The Shell Island work effectively represents the second phase of a plan to restore the island at the mouth of the Empire Canal in Plaquemines Parish.

"We are trying to prioritize where those critical areas that are for restoration," Zeringue said.

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