Isleño Complex opens doors to benefit fishing communityMay 18th, 2010 | By Frank McCormack | Category: News
Barely two weeks ago, Ray Guenther’s crab traps were baited, set and full of crabs, and he had already started outfitting his boat in hopes of trawling soon.
But with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico continuing to creep toward Louisiana’s marshes and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries gradually expanding its precautionary fishing closures, Guenther had to put all that on hold.
“I was crabbing right outside of Breton Sound, right along the rocks of the ship channel and in Drum Bay,” Guenther said. “We picked up over 500 traps in two days.”
With every trap hauled in, the sting of the oil spill grew more personally painful for Guenther. His estimated loss was more than 1,000 pounds of crabs.
“And the way things are looking, we might not even have a season this year,” Guenther said.
Facing a total loss of income, Guenther, like many other commercial fishermen in St. Bernard Parish, has turned to the temporary aid programs being offered by British Petroleum to local fishermen.
On Monday, wanting to earn work, Guenther attended a safety training seminar in hopes of helping deploy boom.
On Tuesday, though, Guenther sat and waited patiently on a shaded porch at the Isleños Museum Complex, where BP and a number of other agencies have set up a claims office for out-of-work fishermen. The claims center is located at 1345 Bayou Road and is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
As BP’s plans for putting fishermen to work and providing unemployment support took shape, the need for a central location to handle claims became clear. And with the parish already strapped for public space, parish officials had to get creative with the location for the claims office.
Parish historian Billy Hyland, who oversees the Isleños Museum Complex, said when Parish President Craig Taffaro approached him with the idea of locating the claims center on the Isleño museum grounds, he jumped at the chance.
“Woe unto us if we don’t do all we can to support our people,” Hyland said. “For the time being, we’re happy and honored to do what we can.”
It’s a fitting location for the claims center, given the fact that the Canary Islanders who originally settled the eastern side of the parish were, in large part, fishermen. Hyland also pointed out that the people of the eastern side of the parish have been well acquainted with hard times.
“This community has always faced terrible natural calamities in the past,” Hyland said, noting the flood of 1793 that inundated the Isleño community.
That flood, Hyland said, was so devastating that the Spanish government sent resources to help reestablish the transplanted Canary Islanders’ community.
“Since that time, the Mississippi River flooded through here about every 10 to 12 years up until 1927,” he said.
The Great Flood of 1927 was when New Orleans businessmen dynamited the river levee at Caernarvon, which flooded Lower St. Bernard and the Eastbank of Plaquemines Parish.
“We’ve had many natural disasters threaten this community, but this is the first time a completely man-made disaster has threatened our identity and survival,” Hyland said.
Although it’s too early to tell what long-term impacts the oil spill will have on the area, Hyland said, “I’m confident we’ll rebound. There’s a tremendous history of resiliency in this community. I have every reason to believe that resiliency will carry us through again.”
In the meantime, Hyland said, the services being offered at the Isleños Museum Complex will provide commercial fishermen some much-needed relief.
Fishermen and anyone financially impacted by the oil spill may file a claim at the Isleños Museum Complex. BP is offering to pay a month’s wages, up to $5,000, to compensate for lost work. For more information and to find out what documents to bring to the claims office, call the claims hotline at 1.800.440.0858.
State agencies are also offering counseling services at the complex. Food stamps, Medicaid information and unemployment benefits are available on site. Additionally, Catholic Charities has stationed counselors at the complex.
In addition, the U.S. Small Business Administration will, by the end of the week, have a station at the Isleños Museum Complex where small business owners will have access to information about the agency’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.
SBA is now making low interest loans available to Louisiana Gulf Coast small businesses suffering financial losses following the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and resulting oil spill. SBA is offering capital loans up to $2 million at a 4 percent interest rate with terms up to 30 years for businesses to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that cannot be paid because of the disaster’s impact.
Businesses that are still repaying disaster loans as a result of the 2005 hurricanes may also be eligible for a deferment. For more information, call SBA’s Disaster Customer Service Center at 1.800.659.2955.
More than 100 applicants are coming to the claims center each day, for out-of-work fishermen need to come ready to wait.
SBA has also opened Business Recovery Centers at two other locations in St. Bernard Parish. Gulf Coast Bank and Trust, located at 1801 East Judge Perez Drive, is serving as a Business Recovery Center. Gulf Coast Bank is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. A second center near Breton Sound Marina, located at 7801 Hopedale Highway, is also available. That center is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Both centers are open Mondays through Fridays.
Committed to hard work
While Guenther, number 32 on the list Tuesday, waited for his number to be called, Jamie Navarro and Julie Schneider, sisters, came over to check on the day’s progress. Navarro and Schneider, number 98 and 99, put their husbands’ names on the list earlier that morning.
While they waited to file a claim, their husbands, life-long commercial fishermen, were out deploying boom. Both Navarro and Schneider readily acknowledged the difficulty of the situation, but admitted they were thankful for what BP was offering.
“At least they’re trying to help us,” Navarro said. “If they only go to work two days a week, at least it’s something.”
Navarro’s husband, Baron, and Schneider’s husband, Johnny, have been going to the command center in Hopedale each morning to volunteer both their boats and themselves for the booming efforts. The sisters said that, more often than not, their husbands make it on a boat to work.
“The ones that really want to work are down there at 6 o’clock every day,” Navarro said.
That work ethic, they said, reflects their husbands’ commitment to commercial fishing.
“This is all these guys know,” Navarro said. “It’s easy to say ‘just go get another job,’ but this is all he’s known since he was 13. It’s not that he can’t do anything else, but this is what he loves.”
“And they have a lot – a lot – of money invested in it,” Schneider said. “You can’t just drop it and do something else.”
“They’re dedicated to their job,” Navarro added. “We live with them. We know.”
And even though their fishing grounds are closed for the foreseeable future, their husbands are committed to working for BP in the cleanup efforts in whatever capacity they can.
Guenther compared it to fishing, “You make what you can right now. That’s how fishing is.”
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