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Gulf of Mexico Report Gulf Bustles with Work Text & Photos by Don Sutherland Even in Plaquemines Parish, with its fishermen of long-standing, the energy interests are a prominent force. The refineries and the export terminals along the Mississippi banks of the Parish are back on-line. Although the Parish accounting equipment still needed work in October, Plaquemines Parish president Benny Rousselle seemed confident that the tariffs were on a par with pre-storm levels. The wrecks lined-up at Empire are the reminders of the interruptions in lives, which many people in the region are still coming to grips with. But the broader trend of things is back to normal, including the normal debates. For example, Louisiana is disappearing. At its present rate of erosion, according to one assessment, the coast by the year 2050 would begin at Houma. "We lost 60 miles of our east bank in two days because of the storms," said Mr. Rousselle, "which is what we would have lost in 50 years." Mr. Rousselle presided over the recovery of the Parish in the extraordinary past year, but the end of his second term is a couple months hence. He says he would like to get into coastal management. Louisiana is also filling-in. Already, there's so much silting at Tiger Pass near Venice, at the southern end of Plaquemines Parish, that the town's future viability as an offshore support base is threatened. Said Ken Wells, of the Offshore Marine Service Association (OMSA), "the Corps has not taken steps to control the silting, and Congress must address it. And as we move east" with Gulf oil drilling, "Fourchon is not enough." North of Plaquemines Parish, in New Orleans, some of the waterways should be deliberately made shallower, according to a line of thought that sees storm surges into populated areas as the consequence of deeper 32 water. From an industrial point of view, that would make big shipyards along the route unable to receive big ships. And the locks of alternative routes are too narrow for modern barges built by the yard. The authorities have proposed trying to secure funding to relocate industrial facilities displaced by any changes, but "We'll have to see how it plays out," said a Bollinger representative, adding that "sites of opportunity" could be considered in another state. Normal debates had long-included the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO), known in the region as the "Mister Go." Said a representative of the New Orleans Port Authority, "Different reports give different opinions on the role of the MRGO during Katrina, or dangers it holds for the future, but politically, if I had to make a guess, I'd say they're going to close it." Indeed, as far back as November 2005, the Port acknowledged that "Hurricane Katrina has emphasized the need for significantly enhanced storm surge and flood prevention measures, adjustments to the depth of the MRGO, and the relocation of several terminals and industries dependent upon the MRGO at its currently authorized depth." The premise called for a new "industrial district with marine structures, such as wharves along the MRGO in St. Bernard Parish to accommodate port-related warehouses, maritime operations and industrial activity, such as offshore support vessels and other shallowdraft vessels." The Army Corps of Engineers is due to provide Congress a report by December 15, on how to close or modify the channel to address storm-protection issues. Louisiana washing away, Louisiana filling-in -- they've driven the normal debates in the region for decades. If there was a lining to Katrina's clouds, it's that they ratified an importance of the region to new eyes, including some in Washington. Too bad about those family fishermen and all, but say, did you know there are issues of national security around the Gulf? Some people didn't even know there were issues of energy-independence around the Gulf. That would make two forms of national security for the region. "Katrina showed what happens in a worst-case scenario," said Ken Wells of OMSA, "which is that domestic oil production can be interrupted, then it resumes." You would not bring down the American economy by attacking the Gulf if you were, say, a terrorist. You could create problems and cost a lot of money, but even that could be minimized. OMSA contends they could be minimized best, if policies extant long before Katrina -- like the Jones Act in all its dimensions -- were enforced. As time marches on, "the storm" becomes increasingly an object lesson of history. We've poured more than a few million into restoring the oil patch and are continuing to do so, so the question arises, how come unidentified foreign-flag vessels with unknown persons aboard can cruise up and admire our work? OMSA would like an answer. Meanwhile, the Senate considers a bill opening 8.3 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico to new oil and gas development. Half the royalties would go to the federal treasury, 37.5 percent would go to the four coastal states. That starts to address one of the long-standing debates: when will the Federal government provide an adequate giveback to our major center of petroleum exploitation, to an extent that actually does it some good? "Protecting our coastline," said U.S. Senator Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., introducing the Gulf Coast Protection Act last March, "will give confidence to American families who live along the Gulf Coast that they have Maritime Reporter & Engineering News