St. Bernard residents voice frustration at oil spill community meetingJun 1st, 2010 | By Chad West | Category: Top Story
Representatives from British Petroleum and the U.S. Coast Guard did their best to reassure concerned St. Bernard residents Monday night that they are doing what they can to stop the massive oil leak and compensate fishermen and business owners suffering because of the disaster.
“We have to stop the flow, clean up the oil in the water, and make you whole,” said Glenn DaGian, a BP retiree who came out of retirement to represent the oil giant at community meetings. “You’re going to ask are we moving fast enough. No. But we are moving as fast as we can, as fast as is prudently possible.”
In opening comments, DaGian said BP is “sorry for the inconvenience” of the spill and that he hopes Louisiana will again enjoy the “good will of the oil and gas industry” after this disaster is over.
Allen Carpenter, a claim representative for BP, then outlined the process for fishermen to obtain loss of income compensation as a result of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which is now in its second month.
“We want to place a value on your loss,” Carpenter said.
Not far into Carpenter’s explanation of the claim process, though, net maker Erwin Menesses could sit in silence no longer. He rose from his front row seat and pointed out the obvious limitations to BP’s ability to compensate for losses.
“It’s not just money,” Menesses said. “It’s our culture and our heritage. I make nets for a living. I learned it from my dad and my granddad from him. Can you replace my heritage? It’s more than money.”
Carpenter answered: “No sir, I can’t. No one can stand up here and tell you we can replace your heritage. But we’re going to help you the best we can.”
It was the first of many emotionally charged, frustrated exchanges between out-of-work fishermen, elected leaders and average citizens and representatives from BP, the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
George Barisich, president of the United Commercial Fishermen Association, focused attention on the dispersant being used to combat the spill. Earlier in the meeting, Coast Guard Captain Ronald Forgit reported that, to date, close to 800,000 gallons of the dispersant Corexit has been applied either on the seabed or the surface.
“You’re talking about dispersants as if they’re a good thing,” Barisich said. Dispersants are not a good thing. … Everything I’ve heard from people I’ve talked to and read on the Internet scares the hell out of me.”
NOAA biologist Nicole Rutherford sought to reassure the crowd that dispersants are a safe and effective way to combat the oil spill.
“Oil is toxic,” Rutherford said. “Dispersants are less toxic.”
But her explanation did little to dispel Barisich’s fears.
“There’s three sides to every story,” Barisich said. “Your side, my side and the truth.”
In the past week, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered BP to identify another, less toxic dispersant and to dramatic reduce the use of Corexit within 72 hours. BP responded that no other dispersants were immediately available in the quantities necessary and continued to use Corexit. However, EPA Director Lisa Jackson reported this week that BP has begun to throttle back its use of Corexit and that the search for an alternative continues. Corexit, although on the EPA’s list of approved dispersants, is banned in BP’s home country, the United Kingdom.
Gary Holland, a native Chalmettian who now lives in Southern California, said he was shocked that BP was so ill prepared for such an oil spill.
“What were you thinking?” Holland asked. “You’ve got no backup plan? If your big answer is to drill that second well, then why weren’t you drilling them at the same time just in case?
“If we lose our marshes, then we lose our land. Who’s got enough money to compensate us for that?”
St. Bernard Council Chair Wayne Landry focused attention on the claim process. Landry asked if fishermen who receive income from the Vessels of Opportunity program would have that pay subtracted from their loss of income compensation.
DaGian assured Landry that Vessels of Opportunity payments would be handled separate from and exclusive of claim payments.
“I’d like to see y’all send that to the fishermen in writing,” Landry said. “I want clarity because I don’t believe, from our attorneys advising us, that that will be the case at the end of the day.”
Landry also urged BP to hire more of the out-of-work fishermen because, “Everyone here is anxious. What’s actually happening as a result of this is we’re turning against each other.”
Patricia Diaz Meyer, wife of an oyster fishermen, said she also believes the process for hiring fishermen is causing infighting amongst the fishing community.
“From what I’m hearing, they’re just picking a name out the hat or saying ‘I know him, so I get to go out,’” she said. “They should be fighting to fix this, but instead they’re fighting themselves, and pretty soon there won’t be anything to fight for.”
DaGian promised that he would bring those concerns to BP and that the company would send someone to monitor the hiring process.
Cheryl Parnhardt, whose husband provides weld repairs for boats damaged in the field, reminded the BP and Coast Guard representatives what is at stake for the St. Bernard community, just four and a half years removed from Katrina.
“Do you see this community? This is all who came back,” Parnhardt said. “These are the people who lost photos, friends and our homes. Our hearts and souls have been ripped out of us.”
“Don’t stand there and watch it be destroyed and tell us you’re doing all you can, because you’re not,” she said. “We’ve come too far as a people, as a city, as a community. We cashed in 401ks and our lives to come back to this town. You’re not doing enough.”
“No we’re not,” DaGian said.
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