Responders Village underwayJul 2nd, 2010 | By Frank McCormack | Category: top story
Anyone driving on Highway 23 through Boothville can’t miss it. In just a month, some 32-acres of vegetation-filled, undeveloped land has been transformed into BP’s new “Venice Responders Village,” an almost-all-inclusive camp for workers aiding in the oil spill cleanup.
For residents, restauranteurs, and hotel operators in southern Plaquemines Parish, the Responders Village, from the outside, looks to be just another example of how the oil spill continues to drain business from the local economy.
But on the inside, BP contractor J.D. Futch, a Plaqueminian, and Responders Village operations director Lee Abbott both emphasize the positive local impact the development is having on the area.
“Ninety-five percent of everything we’ve built and done here has come from local resources,” Futch said from within the compound’s sprawling meal room. “And when I say local, I mean Plaquemines.”
To date, about 60 local vendors have helped raise the Venice Responders Village out of the overgrown alluvial plain, Futch said. From subcontractors to material suppliers to support staff, Futch is proud of the Responders Village’s local ties.
“It’s important to let people know we’re stepping into this community,” he said.
But equal to that is the important role the Responders Village will play in the cleanup efforts as the oil spill moves into its third month and beyond by offering cleanup workers a nearby place to rest up for the following day’s work.
Construction on the facility began May 26. After vegetation was cleared from the sprawling lot, which stretches from Highway 23 back to the toe of the Mississippi River levee, crews raised the elevation of the field about three feet, covered the lot with interlocking and shock absorbing mats, then covered it with a layer of sand.
At the rear of the property, crews placed the oversized meal tent, which Futch said was constructed in less than 10 hours. The building comes equipped with a projection TV and an Internet center, along with seating to accommodate 400 to 600 workers at a time.
Snacks and beverages are available at all times, with breakfast served between 4:30 and 7 a.m. and dinner served between 5 and 8 p.m. Workers will pick up their lunch at breakfast. To one side, there is a comment box – in both English and Vietnamese – for patrons to give feedback and suggestions.
“Even though BP hired us, these people are our customers,” said Jim Keller, director of Responders Village’s food services. Keller operates Cashio’s Catering in Gonzales and Thibodeaux, the company hired by BP to provide food on the compound.
Keller admitted his the entire catering staff is from Gonzales or Thibodeaux, but added that much of the meal tent support staff hails from Plaquemines.
Keller said he feels very strongly that what he does in the kitchen every day really does aid in the oil spill cleanup efforts going on each day both onshore and offshore.
“Food for us is so comforting,” he said. “If you get a good meal in an air conditioned place, then this can be home for 21 days.”
Keller said he pays close attention to the comments his people receive with regard to food at the Responders Village. He said so far his biggest challenge has been feeding the workers at the Fort Jackson animal cleanup station, many of whom, Keller said, come from California and have strange food requests.
“Trying to find a vegan Italian sausage is difficult,” Keller joked.
Keller has also been getting as much local fresh produce and seafood as possible, he said.
Right now, Keller has been most busy feeding the 80 Fort Jackson workers, but that will be changing very, very soon.
As of June 24, the state fire marshall okayed the Responders Village to begin housing up to 1,006 workers. Three hundred to 400 workers currently staying near the staging area in Venice will move to the Responders Village sometime this week.
After that, additional workers will move onto the compound as time allows.
BP spokesman Mike Abendhoff said the main purpose for the Responders Village is to give cleanup workers who don’t live in the Venice area an all-in-one place to stay while they are not on the job.
But some local vendors feel the development further chips away at their dwindling summertime business.
BP has for weeks offered free meals to the 400 cleanup workers living near the staging area in Venice. The Responders Village will continue that service.
Abendhoff said, though local food vendors will not provide food at the Responders Village, they will still have the opportunity to provide meals on a rotating basis to the Venice-based logistical team, which totals 200 to 300.
“The main priority is to get those folks who are commuting long distances or the 400 who are living on site in Venice all to one spot,” Abendhoff said. “It will be a lot better for logistics when everyone is in one place.
“This will give everyone the opportunity to live on site, if they choose.”
Once on site, responders will have access to a recreation room, 24-hour laundry service, a weight room, a library facility, detached showers and bathrooms and bunkhouses. There will also be a sand volleyball court and a horseshoe toss area. Responders will have their personal vehicles parked on site and will take a BP-provided shuttle to and from the staging area each day.
Each air conditioned and hard wired bunk house will accommodate 36 people.
A small clinic will also be on site to take care of minor health needs.
Abendhoff said the facility may eventually house as many as 2,000, if that is needed. BP could even elect to build more permanent structures on site to house workers, depending on the oil spill response time table.
“I think what we need to do is first get everyone in there, figure out how we’re going to manage it, and in three to six months, make the call on whether or not we’re going to build permanent structures,” he said.
In the meantime, the focus is getting the facility ready to be a place of rest and recharging for workers who are fighting the oil spill on the front lines.
“The people who will be here will be the feet on the ground,” Futch said. “We really have an urgency to get those people here.”