The Fight Over Keeping Oil Out of Barataria Bay

Oil's a daily menace in Barataria Bay, one of America's richest fishing grounds. A local plan to protect it by building a wall around it has gone nowhere.

There's a channel leading to Barataria Bay menaced by oil. Local and state leaders are in a fight with the feds over a plan to protect it.

Greg Bourgeois has dried oil on his driveway and a puddle of sheen behind his house.

"I realize this is not much. But is this the beginning of what's going to come?" he asks.

He lives a half-mile inland from Barataria Bay. He thinks the oil must have washed over the boom. "There's no other place it could have come from," he says.

Oil's a daily menace in Barataria Bay, one of America's richest fishing grounds, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann. A local plan to protect it has gone nowhere.

"We're angry. We really are," says director of emergency preparedness for Jefferson Parish Deano Bonnano. "The federal government has done nothing but put roadblocks in the way of protecting the coast.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf
27,000 Abandoned Gulf Oil Wells May Be Leaking
BP's Oil Skimming Estimates Far from Reality
Oil Spill Reaches Louisiana's Inland Waters

BP has even agreed to pay $30 million dollars for their plan: Build rock walls in the channels to stop the Gulf's oil before it enters Barataria Bay.

But the Army Corps of Engineers denied the permit and many coastal scientists say the rock dyke would casue more harm than good. They say rocks blocking the pass might stop the oil but also change the course of the currents and flush away this fragile coastline.

"There is a real danger," says University of New Orleans professor Denise Reed.

Environmental experts worry about storm surge funneling past openings in the rock walls and battering soft barrier islands.

"We could put rocks in next week. We could have breaches in the islands the week after," says Reed.

Locals want action. "How many studies do we have to do before this oil is everywhere?" says Bourgeois.

And how long before it's smearing more wildlife? On Wednesday, 32 oiled pelicans scrubbed clean were released again into the wild in Florida away from the oil threat that still menaces so many places.

As for the plan to build rock walls in Barataria Bay, local leaders even bought all the material: 100,000 tons of rock. Now it's sitting on barges as more oil heads ashore.

  • Mark Strassmann
    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.