Friday, June 11, 2010

You want to see oil now?”

Words of Wisdom, Fear and Anger Strike at the Heart of the Gulf of Mexico

By Paul K. Haeder as told by Marc Gauthier

The pounding on the door this early morning seems like a dream, since all this time Marc’s been meeting cool-headed folk dealing with the here and now – fishing, tour boating, making food, renting out beach cottages and going about the business of prepping for Memorial Day weekend, their biggest weekend of the year.

Two bartenders come crashing into the house Marc’s staying at.“You want to see oil, well, now’s your chance,” one of the guys says, showing Marc a liquor box with noxious-smelling tar globs mixed with white sand.

“The currents shifted, and now the beach is a mess,” the other guy says while Marc kicks into gear.Marc gets his photo equipment and heads to Grand Isle beach, a 7-mile long pristine shoreline. When he arrived, it was covered in dime- and quarter-sized tar globs. Every square foot. And it’s still coming in.

“The people down here are starting to get pissed, real pissed,” Marc said. All the locals have been told to follow these rules set up by BP. No photos of oil-covered birds. No photos allowed of people working the beach. All these liability waivers. Rules, rules, rules, but no action.

Thursday morning, Marc had free range and started shooting film of the “tar ball invasion,” the work crews attacking it, and the shrimpers getting into a frenzy about maybe netting their harvests for the last time.

Marc’s the only one there, in Grand Isle, along Port Fourchon, looking to listen to the natives and film the impending doom of a blowout and complete felonious operation by BP that’s now bleeding 4 million gallons a day.

These people in rubber boots and gloves “are all brown … Mexicans … some from Honduras … just raking up the stuff and shoveling it into plastic bags.”

The color line is significant here because Marc said that all week long he saw mostly whites on the beaches and on the docks. Maybe an occasional black person. “Who’s doing the dirty, dangerous dirty work? Yep, the people of color. Sort of a snapshot of our country.”

Marc watched the crews coming in with machines to smooth over the beach so it is appealing to bathers and tourists. High school graduation parties were planned for this bay, along the beach. People were looking forward to the huge influx of travelers looking to start some recreation and fishing on the 4-day weekend. That’s now all lost.

“They [federal and state governments] need to mobilize the Army. Get BP out of the picture. Put the company into receivership,” Marc says with anger in his voice. “There are National Guardsmen I’m watching right now just sitting around doing nothing. It’s more than a shame … it’s a crime.”

What’s at stake are those grasslands, marshes, the mangroves – known as the estuary system. And the 80-mile barrier island that’s being bandied about has to be built.

Starting now. Marc says the debate about who is going to have to pay the $250 million is absurd. “Send BP a bill for the costs of that, and everything else.”

Marc keeps going back to two or three leitmotifs – no local news is covering the hard-realities of communities like Grand Isle being stripped of livelihoods and life itself; Spokane needs to know what’s going on and we need to phone and write our representatives to get the federal government involved to the max; people are going to have to take this problem into their own hands.

Marc’s looking into starting a renegade clean-up brigade. He’s going to BP with the film rolling to confront these suits with all the media muzzling rules and liability release forms.

“This barrier island has to be built – it’s the best line of defense to protect the marshes … all those shell fish and young fish.”

One Century 21 agent told Marc his life is now changed, as people are pulling out of purchase and rental contracts left and right. “What’s BP going to do for him? Give him a $5,000 check and say ‘we’re even?’”

All that oil, those refineries, the shipping lanes, pipelines, and heaping infrastructure built to keep it all going come with a price — sacrificing barrier islands. Oil is now moving into the Mississippi delta, Marc said.

Marc’s seen the gannet covered in oil, and the brown pelican all ruffled up after getting cleaned. He knows all those bird eggs on the island are now in jeopardy. People are mad; even those clean-up conservationists like the Audubon Society folk contracted by BP are pissed off. They’re all talking going renegade, too, Marc said, ready to jump over rules and regulations in order to start the real work of cleaning up the oil.

To slow down the highly veined oil slick that seems to never stop coming.

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