Plaquemines residents demand action from BP, Coast Guard representatives at town hall meetingsJun 1st, 2010 | By Frank McCormack | Category: top story
As feelings of helplessness began to mount last week with the oil spill in the Gulf moving into its second month, Plaquemines Parish residents gathered for two town hall meetings to confront British Petroleum and Coast Guard representatives face-to-face with their frustrations and fears.
All in all, concerned residents said they wanted to see two main things from BP and the Coast Guard: more action and a commitment in writing.
Speaking at the meeting in Boothville, Coast Guard Captain Ed Stanton, the outgoing local commander of the oil cleanup effort, attempted to paint a positive picture of the situation so far.
“Every barrel we take off the surface out there is one less that comes ashore,” Stanton said. “I don’t intend by my remarks to minimize the impact, [but] considering the impacts we’ve had, I don’t consider it an environmental disaster.”
Stanton said, though, that he did consider the oil spill to be an economic disaster.
Larry Thomas, an executive for BP, also tried to balance optimism with apologies.
“There is nothing I can say from this podium to make this right,” Thomas said. “No one has intentionally tried to harm you, but we did. We can only say that we regret what happened. The days have been long, we’ve worked very hard, but clearly we can do more.”
But Plaquemines residents, many of them out-of-work fishermen, were not satisfied with those assurances.
Acy Cooper, a local shrimper and vice president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, demanded an answer to why the Coast Guard continued to allow BP to use the dispersant Corexit despite instructions from the Environmental Protection Agency to find a less toxic alternative.
“Why are we still spraying a dispersant that BP won’t even allow in your own country?” Cooper asked.
The United Kingdom, BP’s home country, does not allow the use of Corexit.
Stanton, though, denied that Corexit was doing more harm that good in the oil fight.
“We’ve spoken before, and I respectfully disagree with your viewpoint,” Stanton said to Cooper. “I guess if we hadn’t been using the dispersant, we would have had a lot more heavy oil enter your marsh.”
Mike Frenette, president of the Venice Charter Boat and Fishing Guide Association, echoed Cooper’s concern over the use of Corexit and questioned how BP could continue to defy the EPA’s instructions.
“Where in heck does it come from in the United States that a corporation dictates [to the federal government] what it’s going to do and what it’s not going to do?” he said.
Kindra Arnesen, a wife of a commercial fishermen, took the argument a step further, asking if EPA has changed its position on the use of Corexit.
“Does the EPA approve of using this dispersant at this point?” she asked.
After an extensive back-and-forth discussion with Arnesen, an EPA spokesman at the town hall meeting finally admitted that BP’s continued use of Corexit essentially indicates his agency’s approval of it. Although BP has reduced the use of Corexit, that product remains the sole dispersant used in the oil fight.
Over the weekend, nine fishermen fighting the oil spill offshore became ill and were transported to West Jefferson Hospital, allegedly due to exposure to Corexit.
Several people at the Boothville meeting also expressed concern that they had seen no written guarantees that BP would keep its commitments to compensate out-of-work fishermen.
“Come with some real money and give these people some sense that we won’t have to worry in three months where we’ll get the next check,” said John Tesvich, chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force. “We don’t want to deal with you month in and month out. We want one year.”
Clint Guidry with the Louisiana Shrimp Association said he wants to see a contract between BP and fishermen affected by the spill.
“I don’t want to hear you’re going to take care of us from month to month to month,” Guidry said. “I want to see it in writing. I want a contract. We usually do it on a hand shake here, but we don’t trust you guys.”
At the town hall in Phoenix the next night, oysterman Matt Lepetich repeated those concerns.
“I want a guarantee from you, a yes or no, that you’re going to take care of us for our lost oysters,” Lepetich said.
Lepetich said he lost what he estimated to be more than $1 million worth of seed oysters when the state opened the Caernarvon diversion and flooded his leases with freshwater. A BP representative at the Phoenix meeting assured Lepetich that, as the responsible party, BP would cover his losses. Lepetich wasn’t so sure.
“It’s like a first date when it all sounds great,” Lepetich said of BP’s promises. “But when you go to these people and tell them they need to pay for it, I guarantee they’ll change their story.”