New representatives in BP claims processNov 9th, 2011 | By William Dilella | Category: News
On November 1, the Parish took its first public steps toward installing the representatives on the soon to be created Commercial Fisherman Board of Review. This board is to be part of the new expanded roles both fisherman and the current Director of Fisheries will take as further BP spill related projects and mitigation comes into the Parish.
“During the BP Oil Spill and for nearly a year following the spill, we continued to plead with BP and Mr. [Kenneth] Feinberg that his formula just wasn’t going to adequately address the needs of our commercial fishermen and that the need to push more funds to the impacted fishermen was critical,” Parish President Craig Taffaro said.
The function of this new Commercial Fishermen Review Board, as described to the Council and the audience, is to give a collective voice to St. Bernard fishermen, who have been largely disenfranchised in the critical decision making moments following BP. This was largely due to a lack of representation, which had left state officials and large outside companies deciding the fishermen’s fate. Also the fate of potential monies coming into the parish for restoration and other projects, which would leave if large companies managed to win bids over local fishermen and enterprise.
“We are at an incredibly difficult period, as much of the money that will come through, we are trying to explain to the state—who is our representative at the table [with BP], that it is certainly not desirable and certainly it’s not necessarily fair that a large company can come in, out of state, and under-bid and our commercial fisherman get left out of the equation all together,” Taffaro said.
For that reason, the board will serve as a concentrated voice for fishermen, as well as a means to disseminate information to the community at large. And as the Parish continues to work with outside large entities, members of the committee will participate in the review of both state efforts and local parish activities concerning incoming funds.
Nominations will take place over the next week for the seven representatives to sit on the board. Members will be pulled from seven different locations, with one seat reserved for each, including: Bayou Bienvenue, Violet, Caernarvon, Delacroix, Yscloskey, Hopedale and Shell Beach.
“After those nominations are made…commercial fishermen—and only commercial fishermen—will have the opportunity to vote for a representative from each of those areas,” Taffaro said.
And once those representatives are installed, the board will become the official liaison and monitor for every fisherman and potential project, specifically as money are released and public bids are open.
A statement from the Parish said the primary focus of this latest funding will be for oyster cultch and shoreline restoration activities. According to the Parish government, these projects will augment and aid the current projects underway in St. Bernard. This includes the funding through the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries program and the projects in the Half Moon Bayou area and in the Black Bay area.
And while no money has been released from the BP $1 billion of early restoration funds, St. Bernard has continued to remain engaged with Governor Jindal’s office to prepare for any projects that are released.
“We have continuously pushed BP to give more assistance to the fishermen,” Councilman-at-Large East Wayne Landry said. “I am hopeful that this time they get it right, so that the money does finally get into the hands of the fishermen.”
The board’s formation comes in concurrence with President Taffaro’s announcement that Director of Fisheries Ricky Melerine will be granted an extended role into the claims process for impacted shrimpers, as well as the rest of continuing restoration from the BP disaster.
“While the long term impact of the spill continues to unfold, we have to stand up for—and guard against—out of state contractors taking all the work”, said Director Melerine. “As long as I am around, I can guarantee that… I will fight to keep our fishermen in place. This is as important as anything we can do as part of our recovery.”
Kenneth Feinberg, whose firm Feinberg Rozen is handling the current claims process, has promised to appear in the coming weeks, to meet with these local officials. The meeting is scheduled to take place after the new board members have been selected as well, so those representatives can discuss concerns with Feinberg.
“I believe that we have to get Mr. Feinberg back to St. Bernard to address the negative impact that is occurring now only a year after the BP oil spill,” Councilman Fred Everhardt, District E, said. “I also believe it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”