White House approves Louisiana berm project

VENICE, Louisiana Thu Jun 3, 2010 4:55am IST

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VENICE, Louisiana (Reuters) - The White House on Wednesday approved the construction of five sand berms that BP Plc will fund to shield the Louisiana coast from damage from a giant oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana's governor said.

"We have just received word from the White House that they are going to require BP to fund the five remaining segments," Governor Bobby Jindal said at a news conference.

The Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers have already approved construction of one dredged sand segment, and the White House action allows five others, Jindal said.

The Republican governor has heaped criticism on BP and President Barack Obama over the past few days, accusing both parties of responding too slowly to a slick that has damaged over 140 miles of Louisiana's fragile coastline.

"Our federal government does not need to be making excuses for BP," Jindal said at the news conference, only moments before he received word that the White House had approved the berm construction. "Every day they wait, every day they make us wait, we're losing our battle to protect our coast."

As much as 19,000 barrels of oil (800,000 gallons or 3 million liters) a day has been pouring into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana since the a rig drilling a BP well exploded six weeks ago, killing 11 workers.

Almost 4 million feet (1.2 million meters) of protective boom has been deployed to protect wetlands, but Jindal said it was not enough and that it was more effective to clean the oil from sand than from fragile marshes and other coastal ecosystems.

"The right thing for us to do is to fight this oil on our sand," he said "I'd much rather fight this oil on the sand than in our wetlands."

He was speaking after touring the wetlands in Pass a Loutre, an area that he said had been fouled by heavy oil over two weeks ago and where the oil remained, underscoring the difficulty of the clean-up effort.

Jindal said the impact on wildlife in areas that normally teemed with insects, birds and fish was obvious and that you "could hear the silence and smell the fumes."

Locals worried for their future applauded his efforts.

"Everybody is rallying around the governor," said Mike Frenette, the head of the Venice Charter Boat and Guide Association. "His pleas and demands and concerns are about as truthful as you can get."

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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