Well, that was depressing. Tuesday night, down the street from us on Judge Perez Dr., we all met in the St. Bernard Parish Convention Center to get some answers. The Cajuns and fishermen were out in full force, and they were … oh, the sadness … here’s the meeting notes. Highly opinionated, we might add.
The main vein of oil is now 19 miles off the Chandeleur Islands. Emulsified oil and sheen. Layers and layers.
There are three Incident Command Centers BP has set up: at Breton Sound, Shell Beach, and Delacroix. The Coast Guard — represented by an officer named Forgit, from ICC Houma, who assures the crowd that they “are in it for the long haul” — says they would like to build sand burms from the Chandeleurs to the Timbaliers, but the 3 or 4 barges in the USA who can do that work are under the control of the Army Corps of Engineers, who won’t grant the permit to operate them until they’ve done all their impact studies and whatnotery.
Note: These barges are doing other contract work elsewhere, which means the Army Corps of Engineers would lose a lot of money if they actually responded to the disaster, which is their job. Right?
One skimmer collected 72 barrels of oil today. How many barrels are spilled per day? And there are fishermen and boats sitting around waiting to go out? Why is that?
Controlled burning: They have burned 68,000 barrels so far. They are also hiring beaucoup fishermen to skim oil from the surface waters. Booming: Over one million feet of boom has been applied so far, and they say they have met the objectives in their contingency plan. (Insert disgruntled rumblings from the audience.)
Dispersants: They have been spraying them on the surface and at the point of origin. Yes, it’s toxic, and it’s been banned in Europe, but NOAA says it’s 10 to 100 times less toxic than oil itself, and if they break it up, then there’s more surface area, so the sun can kill it when it floats up and spreads out. And microbes eat it more easily.
Nicole Rutherford, a biologist with NOAA, tells the crowd to study the Ixtoc spill history to come to the same conclusion that this is evil, being sprayed on a much bigger evil. (Fact: Corexit is actually four times MORE toxic than crude oil, and, no disrespect to the biologist, but overall, NOAA has trouble speaking with BP’s dick in its mouth.)
Forgit says that many more resources are on their way and coming, because the Coast Guard told BP to get cracking. They have been doing ops 24 hours a day for 34 days. God bless the Coast Guard, even if some of them may be less than honest in the name of covering their own asses.
BP sent representative Glen DaGian to the meeting. He says he’s a retired oil executive who has worked for BP and several other companies, and he’s also a hunter and fisherman who spent his life down here with his sons in Sportsman’s Paradise. He says he’s not currently an executive at BP but is volunteering to help disseminate info. He says everyone is sorry it happened. He uses the word “inconvenience,” which is a bad idea.
“We have to make you whole,” he says. “If you are fisherman and can’t fish, then I want BP to pay your way and pick up the cost of this spill.” He says they are not happy with their own response and are trying to move as fast as they can without making it worse. They have over 20,000 people working on this. All the other major oil companies have rallied around BP to help. He says the Feds are kinda kicking ass, actually. BP and three other companies are ultimately responsible for everything.
Up next: The insurance guy. People remember the Insurance Guy (maybe not this one, but ALL Insurance Guys) from post-Katrina, when the barge knocked through the levee wall and caused a tsunami that instantly put the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish completely underwater. Insurance Guys are a pain in the ass to deal with and you never get what you deserve. This Oilpocalypse, needless to say, is an insurance-industry red-tape nightmare for all concerned.
The claim office nearest St. Bernard is at 1845 Bayou Rd. in St. Bernard. 1.800.440.0858.
Insurance Guy says everybody gets $5,000 max right now, on a monthly basis. It seems like an organized system until one realizes they want income tax records and stuff. This spells doom for under-the-table pirates and off-the-grid fishermen. No proof of income means no insurance. DOOM.
(At this point, your reporter wonders if I can make a claim. Even though I’m not in the fishing industry, I bought a house right on the Mississippi River in the Lower Ninth Ward and planned to live there for the rest of my life, learning to homestead, garden, fish, catch rainwater, and practice self-sufficiency. Since that’s no longer an option, I’m leaving. “Evacuating early,” I should say. Who pays for the cost of that? Who pays for the house I bought which is soon to be uninhabitable, blown apart by hurricanes, and potentially underwater?!?)
We interrupt this organized meeting for an impassioned outbreak from a netmaker who learned it from his daddy, who learned it from HIS daddy etc. Where will he teach his son this trade? He keeps using the word “heritage” and kinda telling the suits that money ain’t shit in the face of this. Everyone in the room starts crying. Everyone. The dam has broken.
After Insurance Guy, Forgit, and BP Retiree uncomfortably withstand the tirade, the floor is opened for questions. The owner of the only grocery store in four regions, where all the fishermen stop in the morning on the way out to the catch, comes to the mic to ask: If oil is in the water in the hurricane surge that’s sure to come, 40 foot waves sometimes, will they give her a new building that’s safe to sell food in and hang out in? Will she and her family be able to live there? Do they know hurricane season starts in a week?
A fisherman who was out on Lake Michaud yesterday saw a 2-mile stream of oil and dispersants. His eyes burned, he was dizzy and nauseous with a headache … it took his breath away. Today, they couldn’t find the stream. It’s coming up from the deep, so the oyster beds are open right now, but the “product” is probably ruined and hazardous to health. (Oyster men “plant” beds, for those who don’t know, and then harvest them later. This is harvest time.)
President George Barisich from the United Commercial Fishermen’s Association then rants about the dispersants. No matter what NOAA says, what he hears on the ground (in the water, rather) is that they are BAD, BAD NEWS. “I don’t want any more cover-ups! It’s a mess! Tell the truth, ya understand?” … The USCG officer reiterates that they had to make a decision for the lesser of two evils. Listen to the NOAA lady, he says. “No offense, but NOAA has stuck it to the commercial fishing industry for years. Change history, please.”
This is where he asks Officer Forgit about the armed guards with BP representatives threatening filmmakers with arrest. Forgit’s whole head turns red immediately as he says “I haven’t heard anything about that.” The distrust in the room is palpable. “HE’S LYING,” I say, loud enough for all to hear. Several people nod.
A muscular coach-lookin’ rake in a Chalmette Football cap and T-shirt makes love to the mic with his Cajun accent and righteous anger. “You drilled two and a half miles into the crust of the Earth, under the ocean, with no backup plan. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? … There are 30,000 wellheads out in the Gulf. How could BP not have the secondary backup well when the first well was put in?!”
The room is obviously in total agreement. BP was doin’ it wrong to begin with. About the booms, Coach Chalmette says: “You sent ’em out dere with pool toys. I was out in Pass a Loutre. Ya got fun noodles out there, and those marshes are as good as dead.”
He goes on to say that he and several in this room were called to Prince William Sound when the Valdez ran aground. Did we know that the mayor of Cordova, AK killed himself five years after the Valdez spill — from frustration? … Also, Dr. Edward Overton told Coach Chalmette he’s worried about the dispersants, and told him why they don’t work. He calls the NOAA biologist “cher.”
“Who’s got enough money to make the delicate, beautiful Honey Island Swamp come back if you make it go away? If ain’t no marshes, we gonna lose our land. How you pay fa dat?” Cue the second of many times tonight where the crowd silently howls in agony about loss of culture, beauty, heritage, life.
“This will be the last generation we will EVER see in the marshland,” another silver-haired Ragin’ Cajun says from his seat. F da microphone, he’s gonna holler. “How come you don’t invite others in to help? Instead of sayin’ you got it, cuz you don’t.” (I’m paraphrasing now.) “If we had a coonass down there, yall woulda plugged dat leak. Ya cuttin’ it up. It wasn’t movin. Now it’s movin.”
“The moon’s fillin’ up,” he continued. “Errbody knows when da moon fills up, da sweet water come in, an’ da shrimp and crab come in wit’ it. In tree days, overnight, we’ll see it. Pelicans are flyin’ da wrong way for food. Starfish are dyin’. Put the oldest fishermen who should retire at the head of the line. Give ’em their retirement and make ’em tribal elders. I’m an earl man now. I try to catch shrimp, I catch earl! Cap dat pipe dat’s bent over. Get us new employment wit’ yall, cuz we would do it right.”
(How many times can a room full of people tear up?)
More questions follow: What is BP gonna do for the dead wildlife — throw some money at the family of the dead dolphin I saw today? Why are you gonna blame the 27 dead sea turtles on the commercial fishermen? We get a bum rap all the time and we know it’s yall. … Why did we come back this far as a community only to see it destroyed for good because of a lack of initiative? Why don’t you stop all of this infighting and do something? …
Why did the pay get cut by 40 percent today for deckhands, and more for captains? Don’t they understand that the people in charge of telling fishermen who can and can’t go out for the Vessel of Opportunity program are corrupt, and they’re giving all the work to their friends while others sit by their boats and starve? Don’t you know we ALL want to work? Don’t you understand the infighting this is causing in our already stressed-out and anxious community? …
We’ve been a friend to oil, but waiting until it washes up, we’re watching everything die — why aren’t we out there running up and down the coast 24 hours a day? What are we doing sitting here? … Why isn’t anybody letting Kevin Costner and his brother come down and do their thing? BP has got the resources and capability to get their help.
The owner of a marina at Shell Beach gets heated while describing how he took a water sample with metallic flakes in it. Miles of dead fish, and they open the oyster season back up. “ARE YOU TRYIN’ TO KILL SOMEBODY?,” he bellows. “Nobody seen ANYBODY test a GODDAMN thing, and if they did, they wouldn’t tell the truth anyway.”
A quiet lady, who has been standing in line for at least 45 minutes, finally gets her turn. She holds up a Ziploc freezer bag of pills and says she has been to the E.R. three times since the burning started. She needs to know when the wind is coming this way, so she can evacuate — or she will literally die.
And that’s a wrap. At least we got to see the Coast Guard lie to our faces, and howl along with each other about the end of Louisiana fishing life as we know it.
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