Mabus: Cleanup plan to take months, not years

JACKSON — President Obama’s point man for the recovery and restoration of the Gulf coast after the massive oil leak said Wednesday that developing a plan for the region’s economy and environment will take months rather than years.

U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said there are already numerous studies that can be implemented quickly, and he said putting together a plan will begin even before the well spewing oil off the coast of Louisiana is capped.

BP will cover the costs, Mabus said during a news conference held after an hourlong visit with Gov. Haley Barbour.

Mabus acknowledged that he didn’t have any specific answers about the impact of the spill on Gulf tourism and fishing and on sensitive wetlands in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. He expects to hear from community and business leaders during his stops in those states this week.

Mabus said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other groups have studied ways to protect barrier islands and marshlands. Some projects have been authorized by Congress, but never implemented, Mabus said.

“We’re not going to know some of the long-term impact, but we do know what type of impact it’s going to be,” he said.

Mabus, a former Mississippi governor, said the coastal community will generate the ideas for restoration and Washington will respond, rather than vice versa.

Since the explosion of Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in April, between 71.2 million and 139 million gallons of oil have spewed into the Gulf from the broken BP well, according to government and BP estimates.

Oil reached Mississippi’s shoreline over the weekend, and Barbour said a significant amount of oil had washed ashore in Harrison County on Tuesday. Most of the oil was cleaned up quickly, he said.

Barbour said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis had made a $5 million grant to Mississippi toward workforce training. Barbour said many residents along the Gulf Coast, who have made their living in the fishing and tourism industry, could be without their jobs for years.

“We’re going to need to have some people retrained,” he said.

Shelia Byrd/The Assocated Press