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Bonnie a 'Drill' for Guard


  The U.S. Coast Guard may have been a tad overprepared for Tropical Storm Bonnie, which fizzled into a heavy rainstorm by the time it hit New Orleans late on the night of July 24. The Guard's severe weather plan included fleeting more than 30 barges up the Mississippi River from the mouth of Lake Pontchartrain at the Rigolets, where the vessels had been acting as a barrier in the wake of the BP catastrophe.

  "That was totally based on a worst-case scenario of a Category 5 hurricane," Lt. Col. Mike Woodrum explained at a meeting of the City Council's Disaster and Recovery Committee on July 28. "Our severe weather plan ... didn't include any lower-level storms because we always plan for the worst case."

  The Coast Guard found a safe harbor for the barges at the last minute, but the barge barrier at Rigolets was still down for at least 60 hours during Bonnie — potentially allowing oil into the lake. Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer pushed back: "Obviously when you plan for a hurricane you always plan for the worst level possible," she said. "However, when we're also fighting, potentially, the oil that could come in ... Are we doing ourselves a disservice within that time frame?"

  Woodrum responded that the Guard learned that lesson from Bonnie, which he said ultimately became a "drill" for the Guard. "We've got to take each storm on a semi-case-by-case basis," he said. "Our severe weather plan should be more of a guideline that allows you to deviate based on what happens."

  No oil or tar balls were found on the lakeshore after the weekend, he added. — Matt Davis

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