Image: Berm construction
Gerald Herbert  /  AP
Berm construction by Louisiana is seen along the Chandeleur Islands on Wednesday.
updated 12/16/2010 4:11:41 PM ET 2010-12-16T21:11:41

The big set of sand barriers erected by Louisiana's governor to protect the coastline at the height of the Gulf oil spill was criticized by staff with the presidential spill commission Thursday as a colossal, $200 million waste of BP's money so far.

Hardly any oil ever reached the berms, government documents obtained by The Associated Press show.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, who pushed the venture over the objections of scientists and federal agencies, has strongly defended it. And despite the commission's scathing report, he plans to move ahead with the project, though with some changes to make it more beneficial.

In their stinging report, commission staff said they can "comfortably conclude that the decision to green-light the underwhelmingly effective, overwhelmingly expensive Louisiana berms project was flawed."

Jindal ordered the berms built — and secured money from BP to do it — out of frustration over what he saw as inaction by the federal government. The idea was popular in Louisiana but became a source of tension between Louisiana and the Obama administration, which grudgingly approved the plan.

Jindal's aides referred questions Thursday to Garret Graves, an official who has been helping coordinate the berm project for the state. Graves vehemently disputed the report.

"There's not a federal agency or state agency that has any accurate data on how much oil was captured, so to use that as a metric for success is absurd," Graves said.

A BP spokeswoman said the company had no comment.

Roughly 14 miles of sand barriers have been built so far using sediment dredged up off the coast and within the Mississippi River Delta. As of October, some 350 million cubic feet of sand had been moved to make the barriers, the equivalent of digging 665 miles of four-lane interstate, according to the state.

The state initially wanted to build 101 miles of berm, but was given emergency approval to build 36 miles.

BP originally committed $360 million to the project. Of that, $195 million has been spent so far. The state plans to spend the rest.

Graves said officials will continue pumping sediment, but instead of extending the sand barriers lengthwise, they will be made deeper. He said that will allow them to serve a dual purpose: protecting the shoreline from oil and restoring the coast.

Jindal, a first-term Republican governor and former congressman, has been fundraising heavily out of state and has been mentioned as possible presidential hopeful in 2012. In a new book, he calls the berms "our last line of defense," and in a national television interview, he described them as a "great success."

"We disagree," the commission said in its report. "From a long-term coastal restoration perspective, the berms may indeed be a 'significant step forward,' as Gov. Jindal has claimed, but they were not successful for oil spill response."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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