Though St. Bernard Parish officials organized a community meeting Monday night, parish President Craig Taffaro quickly stepped out of the way and told the 100 or so audience members “this is your meeting.”
They went head-to-head with representatives of BP, the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, covering an array of topics.
Some areas discussed were familiar, while others were new – revealing a growing sense of dread over the indirect effects of the oil disaster.
Some of the high points from the audience:
Some voiced concerns about the mental-health issues that they fear could surface, referring to suicides in Alaska after the Exxon Valdez disaster. Outside the meeting, on a cigarette break, others said they were worried about alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence and what will these out-of-work fishers do with their days.
BP representatives said captains and deckhands getting paid for working on the cleanup won’t see a reduction in their damage checks, being sent to those immediately affected by the spill. Any cleanup pay is on top of that. But that revealed a rift between those getting the work and those who are not. “People who are getting hired must have political sway,” one speaker said. “Someone should investigate what is going on down at the docks.”
When another speaker said he’s learned that the rate of pay varies across the region, others in the audience shouted in knowing support – and they wanted to know why. BP officials did not acknowledge a difference or provide an explanation.
One man took to the microphone to criticize BP for having no credible plan to deal with the continuing leak, his voice choked with emotion. He went on for some time ending with, “I have no questions. Either you don’t have an answer or I know the answer.”
At one point George Barisich President of the United Commercial Fisherman’s Association asked pointed questions about dispersants. Nicole Rutherford from NOAA offered to speak with him about the topic privately, but he insisted on staying at the microphone and having the discussion in the open, saying he was concerned about his reputation if he were to have sidebar discussions. So she engaged him in a lively debate about the safe use of these chemical compounds, comparing toxicity of oil and toxicity of dispersals.
A woman railed for a good half hour about how the community had always been a friend to oil, about her husband working on blowouts and fires. In tears, she challenged how aggressively they were combating the oil, saying they need more skimmers. She offered strategies for dealing with on-site oil capture. She also expressed concern about people at Shell Beach who have not been paid for clean up work because their paperwork has been lost.
One fisher got up and said that BP should pay the older fishermen to retire and educate the younger ones and send guys his age – in their 50’s – out to fight it. He was reporting oil just a few miles out from Lafitte.
The meeting ran an hour past its 8:30 scheduled close, ending rather explosively as one of the BP representatives was thanking everyone for attending. A frustrated resident stood up and screamed, “No, it’s not over,” and continuing on about damage to the fish and the fishing industry.