State assesses BP oil's impact on La. coast 5 years later

State assesses BP oil's impact on La. coast 5 years later
Eleven crosses are on the beach to memorialize the men killed during the explosion. (FOX 8 Photo)

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Five years after the BP oil spill, state officials are still trying to assess the damage to Louisiana's coast.

They say there were hundreds of miles of oiled coastline, but so far, there's been very little shoreline restoration in spite of BP's stated commitment to "make things right."

Kyle Graham, the executive director of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said the effort to make BP pay for the damage caused by the more than 100 million gallons of oil that oozed into the Gulf is a complicated "work in process."

"When you look at aerial photography - here's where the oil came in," Graham said. It's in Barataria Basin, the Delta and in Terrebonne Bay, and then you had oil all the way to Breton."

Cat Island was ground zero for the spill's destruction.

"It's heartbreaking because we came out here and watched so many birds - generation after generation of birds," said former Plaquemines Parish Coastal Affairs Director P.J. Hahn.

But along the vast and crumbling coast, Cat Island could just be the canary in the coal mine.

"As that oil was pushed in, we saw similar things the oil eroded," Graham said.

Tar mats and tar balls continue to appear. A 28,000-pound tar mat washed up on Grand Terre two months ago. Tar balls and a dead dolphin washed up on Elmer's Island just two weeks ago.

But holding BP accountable - and soon - is crucial.

"You have oil that degrades in weather over time, and in that process, it loses its fingerprint," Graham said.

When it comes to cleanup in the five-state Gulf region, Louisiana is the only state where BP teams are still trying to clean up.

"If oil is found, like Grand Terre, it gets taken care of," Graham said.

But Graham said actual restoration has not begun.

"You definitely have thousands of acres exposed, but how do you transfer that into an injury that you can make a restoration project out of?" he said.

The Restore Act holds promise. It contains $1 billion from BP partner Transocean, and about $800 million more in BP fine money.

"They've begun to set up a grant processes to distribute those dollars," Graham said.

So far, CPRA doesn't have a firm handle on the number of damaged acres. But the agency has approved two Restore Act projects, and neither rebuilds damaged land. One calls for a Houma lock; the other for a Calcasieu River salinity control structure.

"We will have a restoration claim developed by 2016 into 2017," Graham said.

The amount of available Restore Act money is expected to grow after fines are paid by BP and its partners. The state's Coastal Protection Authority promises to remain vigilant.

"We can present it to BP and they could accept, which wouldn't surprise me, or they could drag it out for several years," Graham said.

And Graham said if BP doesn't contribute willingly, the matter could wind up back in court.

The CPRA has been tagged by the governor as the lead trustee in the effort to hold BP and its partners accountable for the 2010 spill damage. Its director says the restoration process could take more than a decade.

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