Small island slammed in oil spill may be saved

Published: May. 31, 2014 at 1:04 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 25, 2014 at 4:56 PM CDT
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Pelican chicks are seen in Cat Bay in the 2012 file photo (John Snell)
Pelican chicks are seen in Cat Bay in the 2012 file photo (John Snell)

On May 22, 2010, oil from the Gulf spill washed onto the islands into Cat Bay and onto the nesting spots of thousands of birds.

The islands, which were in peril long before the Deepwater Horizon blowout, quickly shrank as vegetation died.

Four years later, Plaquemines Parish appears to be on the verge of striking a deal with state officials to restore one of the islands, dubbed by locals "Cat Island."

"This was an island that was destroyed by the oil and it will give save haven to birds for many generations to come," said Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser.

Plaquemines cobbled together $3 million for restoration, including a $1 million donation from Shell Oil, $500,000 from the American Bird Conservancy and $1.5 million in federal Coastal Impact Assistance funds funneled through the state.

However, the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority resisted pleas to put up the balance.

The islands, so isolated that they play no roll in hurricane protection, seemed a lost cause.

"We know we can rebuild these islands," said CPRA Chairman Jerome Zeringue, "but the reality is they won't be here 10, 15, 20 years from now."

Now, Plaquemines is pitching a $6 million plan to reassemble 18 to 21 acres on Cat Island, shaving costs by barging in sand from the Mississippi River and splitting the rest of the costs with the state. For the first time, Zeringue indicates that if the parish's math holds up to scrutiny, the state will fund the other $3 million.

"Obviously, we have to do due diligence in assessing what dollars we have and which projects we are going to put the money to," Zeringue said.

Plaquemines officials insist they can add life to the island by designing the project with a rock barrier to cut down on wave action and erosion.

However, the final push may have come from some of those donating money.

Plaquemines officials said they were warned the funding would be lost if the project continued to languish.

Zeringue believes the state may find savings in piggybacking the project onto larger barrier island restoration projects, shaving the costs of mobilizing and demobilizing dredging equipment.

Plaquemines' Office of Coastal Zone Management notes the project could represent the first time since the Gulf spill that money has been spent solely on habitat restoration.

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