Memorial Day weekend is historically one of the busiest weekends of the year for Grand Isle. But with a band of oily water stretching the sandy horizon, fish and tackle shops shuttered, fishermen out of work and restaurant owners barely hanging on without tourist money to keep them open, Grand Isle was much less grand and most ominously deserted.
The isle’s long light sand beach was given a thorough washing with oil when portions of a massive oil slick from BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil disaster moved inland. This week the beach is covered in workers dressed in full-body contamination suits, while along the southernmost tip of Louisiana’s Hwy 1 that runs through town, lines of Grand Isle’s many cabins and fish camps for rent sit deserted, their parking lots completely empty.
Already more than 100 miles of Louisiana’s delicate coastline have been hit by the oil. The financial costs associated with the massive oil leak still spilling from a broken wellhead after BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico April 20, killing 11 people, are too great for Louisiana to take on by itself.
But it isn’t just Louisiana that’s having difficulty shouldering the cost of the spill. A military colonel said Tuesday if it wasn’t for the massive cost of the spill, BP’s murky presence in cleanup efforts along Louisiana beaches wouldn’t have the presence it has not.
The colonel, who is stationed in Grand Isle, said Tuesday the US is working for BP, not the other way around. He spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We’re working for BP,” he said. “All reports have to go to BP.” Continued
The colonel told reporters about two giant logs of congealed oil that measure several feet by eight inches and sit submerged in the water along a certain portion of beach, beyond the tiger dam set out to catch incoming oil.
Oil cleanup workers along the beach Tuesday took shifts under the blazing sun shoveling debris from the sand into plastic bags. They looked like a life-on-the-moon scene in a sci-fi movie.
Another anonymous source on Grand Isle said the workers were hired in Houston by a company contracted through BP and bused to Grand Isle. But it was impossible to get a word from the workers themselves: not their names, the name of the company they work for, or what they’re doing on the beach.
The majority of them sat catatonic from the heat under canvas awnings to protect from the monstrous sun while a small group of workers took a shift wandering over the sand to pick up bottles and other debris. The temperature was well over 90 degrees and felt well over 100.
Despite the workers’ heat exhaustion, they followed strict instruction to keep people from walking across the tiger dams, those long tubes of heavy plastic filled with sand and set along the beach to guard against oil intrusion.
“Get away from there,” they yelled as reporters neared the water. The workers walked out from the shade of their awnings. “No one can go over there,” they said. “Your feet are going to fall off. Going over there is not allowed.”
But even as they ordered reporters from the beach, the workers would not say who had hired them, and whose orders they were carrying out.
While no oil was visible in the water beyond the tiger dam, and the logs of congealed oil were not immediately apparent, the surface of the water had an oily sheen that sparkled under sun.
Along Louisiana’s Hwy 1 that runs parallel to the beach, Grand Isle residents have posted signs declaring their anger and frustration with BP: “Shame on You BP” and “BP & Obama Put Us Out of Business.”
The lawn beside one residence is filled with white crosses, each a memorial to the death of a way of life for coastal residents. The crosses cover the whole yard, listing things like brown pelican, shrimp, the beach, fishing and beach sunsets. Now it’s time to find a new way of living, in a new world, along a new Gulf, where oil will likely continue to spew at least until August.
Buddy Caldwell, the state’s Democratic attorney general, has asked lawmakers for $27 million and permission to hire private lawyers to represent Louisiana’s interests in the oil spill.
This week Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, said Caldwell’s office will be allocated $5 million of the first $25 million BP has given the state for its response efforts.
“It’s important to note that this $25 million doesn’t even scratch the surface of our state’s total needs in responding to and recovering from the catastrophic oil spill,” Jindal said in a written statement. “We are designating $5 million of this total to the Attorney General’s Office to help support their expenses incurred as a result of the BP oil spill.”
In the same statement, Caldwell added: “Without this essential funding it would be virtually impossible to engage in the difficult task ahead of ensuring that BP lives up to it financial obligations and responsibilities to the state of Louisiana.”
Neither mentioned litigation. Although Caldwell has not sued BP, something is in the works.
Grand Isle and Fourchon Beach sit not more than 10 minutes apart, but Grand Isle falls in Jefferson Parish while Fourchon Beach is in Lafourche Parish.
At Fourchon Beach, Coast Guard representatives denied the claim that U.S. agencies bow to BP. “We are not answering to BP,” Coast Guard Lt. Patrick Hanley insisted.
He added that everyone is hired through BP, and said the Coast Guard works “directly with BP to make sure projects are executed properly and properly implemented.” Hanley said that while BP handles hiring people and ordering supplies, the Coast Guard is in charge of overseeing the work.
The Coast Guard’s “biggest concern,” Hanley said, “is that it gets ahead of the oil.”
A Coast Guard officer confirmed that many of the cleanup workers BP has hired were bused in from Houston.
Practically every fisherman along the more than 100 miles of Louisiana coastline hit with oil is in need of an immediate job. Many fishermen have expressed frustration — not to mention desperation — at not being able to get jobs with BP.
Some locals have been hired by BP as part of its Vessel of Opportunity program for out-of-work Louisiana fishermen.
Barry Bena, a media relations officer for the Coast Guard, said he was formerly stationed in Venice, La. “There are many local fishermen working oil cleanup over there,” he said.