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GRAND ISLE, La.
Frustration is growing among coastal officials who say the federal government should take a stronger role in fighting the massive oil spill that is threatening the state's wetlands and recreation on this barrier island resort community.
Oil from an underwater gusher in the Gulf of Mexico is spreading west, Gov. Bobby Jindal said Thursday at a news conference after an aerial tour of the coast. Oil had reached nearby Elmer's Island, another natural barrier island crucial to the state's hurricane and flood protection, and in waters near Grand Isle, he said.
Officials said some of the oil was a light sheen, some came in the form of tar balls on beaches and yet more was a thick layer, like the chocolate brown goo that's blanketing wetlands east of the Mississippi River.
Jefferson Parish Councilman John Young said President Barack Obama should take a stronger role in the fight against the oil, letting BP PLC concentrate on trying to plug the leak a mile undersea. The oil company operated Transocean Ltd.'s Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded April 20 and sank two days later, triggering the spill that has dumped at least 6 million gallons of crude. Some scientists say it is more.
Young said Obama should pressure the Army Corps of Engineers to approve a plan to use dredged sand to build long sand berms -- in effect creating new barrier islands or rebuilding old ones -- to protect delicate coastal wetlands. Some of those wetlands, in Plaquemines Parish, have already been fouled by thick oil. The proposal was submitted to the corps by Jindal's administration, but the corps hasn't acted on it.
"We've given BP enough time," Young said. "We need the president of the United States to take control of the situation."
Jindal and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser have been pushing the corps to approve the plan, saying it would be much easer to clean the sand than the thick plant life that hosts a variety of wildlife, including tiny animals that are vital to the food chain.
Proof that the dredging plan would work, Jindal said, was in pictures of Elmer's Island. The National Guard was able to fill gaps in the island in recent days in what amounts to a smaller scale version of the plan that doesn't need the corps' participation. The island was blocking patches of oil that would otherwise pass through to the wetlands.
Garret Graves, chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said the Jindal administration first began discussing the dredging project with the corps during the week of May 3. The proposal was officially submitted May 11.
"We've been waiting for a response since then," he said.
Graves said discussion about the project has gone up the Corps' chain of command and at the White House level, "but we have not been privy to those discussions or communications."
Graves said they've answered all inquiries, in fact, providing additional information about the proposal earlier this week. But they have not indicated whether the project will move forward, he said.
"The amount of time it's taking has led to concerns on our part," he said.
Calls by the AP to the Corps of Engineers were not immediately returned.
Other officials were critical of BP for its inability to stop the underwater leak. And, they said, the company has been too slow to put willing boat owners and fishermen to work deploying containment boom.
Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle and police chief Euris Dubois, said BP was slow to respond to calls about oil creeping close to the island. "Nobody went to clean it and now it's on our beach," Dubois. He said oil was visible at Caminada Pass near the island and that small amounts had washed ashore and were being cleaned up Thursday.
E-mails to BP for comment were not answered.
Carmardelle noted that the spill comes as a series of fishing tournaments was about to start on and near the island. The biggest, the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo in July. Whether the rodeo would go on as scheduled was uncertain Thursday afternoon.
With or without the rodeo, too much oil could devastate Grand Isle, where summer homes on stilts line Louisiana Highway 1, the only route into the island and the town's main drag.
"The camp owners and campers come down here especially to fish," said Jeannine Braud, longtime resident and a waitress at the Starfish restaurant.
She added, "The fish are biting on the bay side right now. The speckled trout? They're tearing them up right now."