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Ivor van Heerden, the Controversial Cassandra of the Gulf

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LIVINGSTON, Louisiana -- Dr. Ivor van Heerden, the former deputy director of Louisiana State University's Hurricane Center, was one of several experts to presciently predict the disastrous consequences -- including catastrophic levee failure -- if a major hurricane were to hit the New Orleans area. "Louisiana is a terminally ill patient requiring major surgery," van Heerden told the PBS program "Nova" in 2004.

In the course of encouraging transformative hurricane preparation, van Heerden additionally called for the restoration of Louisiana's coastal wetlands. Decades of erosion due to oil exploration have eroded the marshes that once functioned as New Orleans' natural buffer from approaching hurricanes. Such storms feed off of open water, vast expanses of which now lie ever closer to the city. As van Heerden and others foretold, this situation proved disastrous during Katrina.

Ivor van HeerdenAfter the hurricane, van Heerden chronicled his findings in "The Storm: What Went Wrong In Katrina and Why -- The Inside Story From One Louisiana Scientist" (Viking Adult, 2006; co-written with Mike Bryan.) The book earned wide praise as a telling indictment of the Army Corps of Engineers, which van Heerden castigated for building shoddy levees around New Orleans and for allowing the oil companies to ravage the wetlands by digging intrusive canals. At the same time, it was criticized for perceptions of a self-serving tone and a pedantic writing style. More significantly, van Heerden's book and his ensuing outspoken statements clearly annoyed his employer, LSU. In April 2009, he was fired.

Van Heerden maintains that the firing occurred because LSU feared that his candor would jeopardize future grant money. The university has declined to comment, and van Heerden has filed an injunction to reverse the decision. He's received ample support from many prominent academic colleagues, along with some negative depictions as a gadfly.

Van Heerden, who has a doctorate in marine science, is working for Polaris Applied Sciences, based in Kirkland, Washington. The company's mission is "Providing companies worldwide with scientific support to spill response."

Van Heerden serves as a SCAT (Shoreline Clean-Up Assistance Techniques) leader. "We become the eyes of the spill," he explained. "The team consists of myself as the marine scientist and tech leader; a representative of state government, such as the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality; and someone from the federal government, usually NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) but occasionally the Fish and Wildlife Service. Plus an archaeologist if historic sites are involved. We fly over from a few hundred feet up, and map any oil that we see. With Hurricane Alex, there is potential for more oil moving in, and we'll find out about that soon."

Van Heerden went on to recount that such aerial reconnaissance is followed by shoreline surveys from boats. At each day's end a report is logged in that includes a GPS track and numerous photos, "so that, both spatially and temporally, we have a precise record in our database. If shoreline cleanup is indicated, then a NOAA rep passes that on to the operations folks."

"This is a very standard response process in a spill," van Heerden said. One aspect of his role may be quite surprising, though. The official website of the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command -- the government/business compendium that runs the recovery -- lists Polaris as a "BP Contractor." Van Heerden states matter-of-factly: "I have to make a living, since I no longer work for LSU. This job utilizes my expertise, and I feel quite sure that it does not compromise my integrity in the least."

Many harsh critics of BP -- including Leonard Bahr, a former Louisiana State University marine sciences faculty member and coastal policy adviser -- vouch for van Heerden without reservation, praising him as "well-respected." But other observers disagree, especially those with more of a fringe perspective. Last month the blogspot New Orleans Ladder commented "now that it appears that Ivor van Heerden is into the Jury-Tainting Business with BP, I sincerely hope that our readership may [serve on his jury] in his own case against LSU."

Van Heerden's personal take on the spill may further exacerbate such opinions. "The general public is understandably very depressed about the spill," he said, "but it could be that by Christmas this will all be a bad dream. In my opinion it is not a doomsday scenario. There has not been all that much oil intrusion and the oil breaks down rapidly. So do the dispersants. I'm not a toxicologist, and I don't know what the effects of ... another storm, if we have one. But we see no evidence of oiled fish or fish kills or anything like that.

"As a recreational fisherman myself, I am really looking forward to when they lift the bans in some of those fishing areas. I think it will be a bumper season. I haven't seen any testing, but from my observations everything in the wetlands is alive and well."

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one of van Heerden's colleagues shared this view: "The fishermen and the average citizens are genuinely hurting now because they can't work. But most of the fishing-ground closings are precautionary and temporary. Plus, the areas that are open aren't being fished, because most of those guys are working for BP. But the media gets a more dramatic story by making all this look as bad as possible, and that allows the politicians to keep glomming more money from BP."

While van Heerden seeks to allay fears about the extent of environmental damage, he bristles at the mention of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's berm construction project that is touted as a magic bullet for blocking oil. In lieu of a clear leader and a cogent plan, many Louisianans are pulling for the project's success with a combination of religious faith and patriotic fervor. In this climate, disagreement is tantamount to disloyalty. Even so, impartial scientists are dubious.

"Sand castles" is van Heerden's succinct description of the berms, along with this scientific explanation: "There's a concept known as the equilibrium profile which is based on wave energy, the slope of the beach, and the grain size of the sediment. The sediment involved here is very fine, so the berms will erode and shape themselves at a very low angle. I've looked at it from the air and they're having a huge problem stacking the sand."

Nevertheless Jindal is pushing the berm project with an intensity that borders on messianic zeal but -- on a more worldly level -- is at times disingenuous. Last month he took reporters to see an unrelated and pre-existing coastal restoration site that he represented both as part of the new berm project and evidence of its rapid progress. The two sites are entirely separate, situated many miles apart, and use completely different construction technology. But -- perhaps because the current zeitgeist favors the berm project so strongly -- no media coverage mentioned the discrepancy.

"Jindal didn't seek scientific info, and no copy of the final plan was ever forthcoming," van Heerden went on. "He claimed it was designed by 'Dutch engineers.' I contacted all the engineers whom I know in the Netherlands" (van Heerden hails from South Africa) "and so far none of them know of any Dutch engineer who supposedly was involved in this design. In my opinion this is totally about Jindal's desire to be elected president, and the unfortunate reality in Louisiana right now is that scientists with the expertise to make informed comments are a little afraid to do so ever since they saw what happened to me. My situation has had a huge chilling effect." In this vein, Leonard Bahr's latest web posting, "Silence of the Eco-Lambs" decries what he describes as the failure of the National Wildlife Federation, the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Audubon Society to speak up on the issue.

Last month, the Coast Guard suspended work on the berm when state contractors started dredging in an off-limits "littoral zone," thus risking serious environmental damage. But Jindal and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser denounced the federal demand to abide by an explicit agreement as just more capricious meddling by out of touch Washington bureaucrats. A respected environmentalist, Dr. John Lopez, coastal program director for the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation -- which has supported the berm project in general -- sided with the temporary suspension until the permit's conditions were obeyed. "What good does it do to protect the [Chandeleur] islands from oil," Lopez said, "if you destroy them while trying to protect them?"

Nungesser's response was apoplectic. "Prove it!' he shouted, ripping up a letter from Lopez. "Prove it! Prove it! ... It's cheap talk to get his name in the paper! ... Boycott this organization, because they've done nothing but throw wrenches in it!" Nungesser went on to call for Lopez's resignation.

Much of Nungesser's angst over bureaucratic dithering is eminently valid, however. All observers and experts concur that skimmer boats provide one of the best and fastest forms of oil clean-up. But there have been puzzling delays in bringing enough such boats to the scene. A huge skimmer ship appropriately called A Whale, some 10 stories high, recently arrived from Taiwan. Its skimming capacity is 250 greater than most boats currently in use. The vessel is undergoing a weekend test.

"I completely agree," said van Heerden, "that the skimmers are effective. My concern is with these other asinine ideas. I don't want to see $350 million wasted on the berms. Down the road that could hurt Louisiana when we ask Congress to fund legitimate projects."
Filed Under: Environment, Oil Spill

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If you don't like the bad news, just kill the messenger. However, Dr. van Heerden will not be so easy to kill and history will eventually out the validity of his thinking. Meanwhile, take a look around you the next time you're in heavy traffic and try to imagine how many cars out there contain just one person on an unnecessary trip. Methinks Pogo was absolutely right in 1971, when he said "We have met the enemy and they are us!"

July 12 2010 at 9:27 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Upon Obama’s taking office he staffed his administration with what is called a “Wall Street Cabinet”, including former employees of Goldman Sachs who Rolling Stone Magazine in their devastating article “The Great Bubble Machine” on this banking behemoth warned, “From tech stocks to high gas prices, Goldman Sachs has engineered every major market manipulation since the Great Depression — and they're about to do it again.”

And when Rolling Stone Magazine warned that Goldman Sachs was about “to do it again” they probably didn’t even know how apocalyptic this banking giant’s machinations towards the United States really are, and as evident by the BP disaster in the Gulf when just three weeks prior to the Deepwater Horizon explosion they sold nearly half their shares of BP stocks saving for their investors billions of dollars of potential losses.

Goldman Sachs wasn’t alone either in its astute “foreknowledge” of the collapse of BP’s stock value due to the Gulf disaster as BP’s own chief executive, Tony Hayward, sold about one-third of his shares weeks before this catastrophe began unfolding too.

But according to this FSB report the largest seller of BP stock in the weeks before this disaster occurred was the American investment company known as Vanguard who through two of their financial arms (Vanguard Windsor II Investor and Vanguard Windsor Investor) unloaded over 1.5 million shares of BP stock saving their investors hundreds of millions of dollars, chief among them President Obama.

For though little known by the American people, their President Obama holds all of his wealth in just two Vanguard funds, Vanguard 500 Index Fund where he has 3 accounts and the Vanguard FTSE Social Index Fund where he holds another 3 accounts, all six of which the FSB estimates will earn Obama nearly $8.5 million a year and which over 10 years will equal the staggering sum of $85 million.

The FSB further estimates in this report that through Obama’s 3 accounts in the Vanguard 500 Index Fund he stands to make another $100 million over the next 10 years as their largest stock holding is in the energy giant Exxon Mobil they believe will eventually acquire BP and all of their assets for what will be essentially a “rock bottom” price and which very predictably BP has hired Goldman Sachs to advise them on.

Important to note is that none of this wealth Obama, Goldman Sachs, and other American elites is acquiring would be possible without this disaster, all of whom, as the evidence shows, “somehow” knew what was going to happen before it actually did, including the US energy giant Halliburton who 2 weeks prior to this disaster just happened to purchase the World’s largest oil disaster service company Boots & Coots.

Unfortunately for the American people watching as these elites destroy their country is that they are being told none of the truth, especially about Obama, who while becoming enormously wealthy off the hardship, misery and toil of his citizens has become the only US President in history to begin jailing every government whistleblower he can find, has won the right to jail anybody he wants without charges and hold them forever, and most incredibly has claimed the right to assassinate any American citizen he deems a threat.

The great American Founding Father, and the United States first President, George Washington once said, “Experience teaches us that it is much easier to prevent an enemy from posting themselves than it is to dislodge them after they have got possession.” The American people to their great shame didn’t heed these words, now they are paying for it.

July 05 2010 at 7:23 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Peyton's comment

you lost me at upon

July 06 2010 at 3:34 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

You hit the nail right on the head Peyton!! Thank you for posting this information - more people need to be informed, that what this is, is just a big game of monopoly, just like 9/11

July 07 2010 at 1:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Puzzling Government red tape delays indeed. Just wait until these storys break....and they will.

July 05 2010 at 11:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gtheel's comment
Crystal'll all be covered up, just like everything else!

July 07 2010 at 1:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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