High winds and rough seas in the Gulf of Mexico are hampering operations by BP to contain the looming oil slick threatening Louisiana’s endangered wetlands, as the oil company’s efforts are being questioned by both Gov. Bobby Jindal and local residents enlisted to fight the spill.
Noting that the spill “threatens our way of life,” Governor Jindal said at a press conference on Saturday afternoon that he is “past the point of waiting for clean up plans from BP” and is drafting his own with parish leaders. The goal is to build a "second line of defense" in front of Louisiana's wetlands.
For now, 300 boats remained docked in Plaquemines Parish. BP's efforts to pay local fishermen to put down oil booms is faltering, with fishermen confused about the the details of BP's Vessel of Opportunity.
But this weekend, the weather has been perhaps the greater concern, as a southerly front with wind gusts of 30 miles per hour kicks up waves of six to eight feet offshore. A BP spokesperson said weather has limited the ability of smaller boats to safely deploy oil booms, though larger skimmer ships continued cleaning oil from the surface.
On Saturday afternoon at the Cypress Cove Marina in Venice, for example, workers wearing safety helmets and life vests stood idly on the docks as steel flat boats loaded with 1,500 feet of orange nylon oil boom sat moored to pilings.
“There’re white caps in the river right now and that’s too rough for a 15 foot flat boat,” said one boatman, who would not give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the press. “In good weather one boat can put out 20,000 feet of boom a day. It takes longer to load up the boat here at the dock than it does to set it out on the water. We’d all like to be out there now doing what we can to help.”
President Obama is expect to arrive in Venice Sunday.
A new line of defense
As the weather worsened and the oil slick grew exponentially over the weekend – tripling in size from Friday morning to Saturday afternoon – containment strategies in southern Louisiana shifted from the outer coastline to inland wetlands and barrier islands crucial to wildlife.
“We’re putting up a second line of defense now, trying to keep the oil out of these fingers of wetlands that are so important to our wildlife and seafood industry,” says Plaquemines Parish president Billy Nungesser.
In the Gulf, booms have been deployed around brown pelican nesting areas in the Delta National Wildlife Refuge and the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, says Tom MacKenzie, an officer with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Everything is being done to protect priority items and priority areas,” says Mr. MacKenzie. “On Breton Island alone we have 1,200 nests. Of course, booms can fail because of wind and waves, so we have worked with BP to put our rescue and rehabilitation response in place.”
As the oil spill crisis entered its 12th day, Jindal continued his criticism of BP at a press conference in Baton Rouge.
“I’m certainly worried that the booms as they’re currently deployed are not effective,” said Jindal, who on Friday declared a state of emergency and requested activation of the Louisiana National Guard. “I’ve shared my concerns that BP’s current resources are not adequate to meet the challenges we face, and I’ve encouraged them to seek more help the federal government and others.”
The view from Plaquemines Parish
In Plaquemines, parish president Mr. Nungesser moved forward with his plan to use two jacked up barges stationed just offshore as staging areas to distribute oil booms as the slick approaches, while confusion reigned among local residents over BP's Vessel of Opportunity program, which will pay fishermen to deploy booms.
Few local fishermen have to date been used. Hundreds are waiting for their hazardous materials handling certification so they can begin work. At lunchtime in front of the Riverside Restaurant in Venice, several fishermen scoffed at BP’s proposal to pay them $1,500 a day for use of their boats.
“That’s chump change as far as I’m concerned,” says commercial fishermen Jimmy Miller. “I can make $10,000 a day during fishing season. Fifteen hundred will barely cover my expenses.”
Others believed that a liability waiver they were asked to sign to enroll in the program would forfeit their rights to sue the company for losses they’ve suffered from the oil spill.
“You don’t sign any document like that until you have a lawyer look it over,” said fisherman Wendell Barrios, a lifelong resident of Plaquemines. “As long as they’ve got this, you won't see my boat out there.”