The U.S. government gave the go-ahead Thursday for an ambitious plan to construct several barrier islands to reduce the amount of oil from the giant Gulf of Mexico spill from coming ashore.
Coast Guard commandant Thad Allen told reporters that he gave approval for the trial construction of a section of prototype barriers that, if they appear to work, could become part of a larger construction separating the Louisiana coastland from the widening oil slick.
"The state of Louisiana submitted a request to the (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers to build a series of barrier islands and berms," Allen told a press conference in the coastal town of Venice, Louisiana.
"The Corps announced today they would approve six segments totaling 45 miles," Allen said.
But Allen said experts are divided as to whether the plan is an "effective response" to the spill.
"There is not universal agreement on that. I said we take one small segment of it and start a prototype construction project and evaluate with the rest of the projects in relation to that. And that's where we are," he said.
He added that the massive construction project would not provide a quick fix to the threat of millions of gallons of crude slopping up on the Louisiana shoreline.
"Some of these projects are estimated to take six to nine months, some up to a year," he said.
"I thought the prudent thing to do was start a prototype project and keep asking questions," Allen said.
The government construction program comes after insistent demands by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, that the government approve a plan to use dredgers to build up a network of temporary barrier islands to keep oil from pushing into environmentally sensitive marshlands.
In a statement Thursday, Jindal urged the government to get the construction of the islands started without delay.
"We need this first project to be done as quickly as possible so work on the next five segments can get underway," he said.
"We know it works, we have seen it work, but if they need to see it work, they need to do that quickly. We don't want the federal government creating excuses for BP. They could have built nearly 10 miles of sand boom already if they would have approved our permit request when we originally requested it," Jindal said.
"This is BP's spill. They are the responsible party, but we expect the federal government to hold them accountable and ensure that they act responsibly," he added.
At a Washington news conference earlier on Thursday, President Barack Obama defended the time it took for his administration to respond to the governor's plan.
Obama said he had promised Jindal two weeks ago to move quickly on the plan if the Army Corps of Engineers determined it was the best approach to the problem.
"And that essentially is what's happened, which is why today you saw an announcement where from the army corps's perspective there were some areas where this might work but there are some areas where it would be counterproductive and not a good use of resources," he said.
The portion of the plan approved by the Coast Guard chief would be taken over by the federal government, possibly with funding by BP, the energy giant whose well is leaking, the statement from a joint government and industry information center said.