Five months later Isaac, marsh grass debris still litters Plaquemines Parish

Published: Feb. 5, 2013 at 11:01 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 12, 2013 at 11:23 PM CST
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Marsh grass litters Plaquemines Parish after Hurricane Isaac
Marsh grass litters Plaquemines Parish after Hurricane Isaac

Into the second month of the new year, 2012's Hurricane Isaac clean-up continues.  Nearly half of the dead marsh grass left behind by the devastating floods is still strewn across many areas of Plaquemines Parish

The debris clean-up trucks are still on a cloudy Tuesday morning, waylaid by recent rains that make it difficult to move along the muddy levees.

Nungesser said, "We're still removing debris from this last hurricane.  You couldn't even imagine how much grass was brought in during this storm."

Kerry St. Pe', director of the Barataria Terrebonne National Estuary program, explained,  "Anytime there is a storm surge in advance of a hurricane, high water pushed up from the storm, it pushes up all of the dead grass that is in the marsh."

A steady stream flowing into a storm drain leaves behind bits of grass and dirt.  It's nature's micro-demonstration of what happened during the monstrous project of draining Isaac's storm surge waters from Plaquemines Parish.

Parish president Billy Nungesser said, "We saw over a million cubic yards of marsh grass. Ten times more than we saw for Katrina."

Those massive amounts of marsh grass are still being collected from the levees and ending up in piles to be hauled away.  Nungesser said about 400,000 cubic yards, enough to fill nearly 15,000 large dumptrucks, still cover  parts of the parish.

"We want to know what this marsh grass, large amounts coming inside the levees, have anything to do with this sheen that we continue to see out there from the BP spill," said Nungesser.

St. Pe' explains where the sheen is coming from two years later.  "There are still sheens out there," he said.  "It's the oil that is in the ground, the subsurface sediment, so anytime there is a storm surge or disturbance to the bottom, allows that oil to become floating again."

He thinks it's unlikely to be the major factor in the current devastation with all the marsh grass.

Prior to working his current position, St. Pe' spent 25 years with the Water Pollution Control Department for the State of Louisiana.  "I monitored oil spills and oversaw the clean up," St. Pe' said.

He says oil can kill the grass in some circumstances. "When it becomes very thick, it can matt up the grass and it does kill grass in that circumstance," he told us.  "As long as the stems are not totally pushed down into the oil, they will survive."

Nungesser just hopes for some answers.  He said, "If that had any impact in killing this marsh grass... Not just the impact of the oil spill, not just the areas where we document heavy oil was a lot greater than we originally thought.  And those are the questions we are asking in Plaquemines."

Regardless of why there is so much to clean up, the lingering problem is yet another major setback to the health of already fragile marshlands.

St. Pe' said, "This grass can totally cover the healthy existing marsh and will shade out the sunlight from that marsh and cause that marsh to die."  It's one problem we can document all too easily.

St. Pe' says the amount of water and the amount of time Isaac spent just off shore may be a factor in the huge amount of grass left behind.

We asked BP for a statement on Nungesser's suspicions about oil from the 2010 BP disaster in the debris.  The company declined to address it directly but did send this statement:

Under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process, state and federal Trustees and BP are conducting extensive studies of coastal vegetation. Combined with knowledge gained from decades of Gulf of Mexico research, these studies are using science to resolve questions about potential injury.