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Gulf Coast Industries Reel From Ongoing Oil Crisis

May 28, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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Tom Bearden reports from Jefferson Parish, La., on how residents and business owners impacted by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill view the government's response to the disaster.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And while the president visited the Gulf today, “NewsHour” correspondent Tom Bearden was talking with local residents and businesspeople about their plight and the government’s response so far.

Tom filed this report from the town of Barataria, Louisiana.

TOM BEARDEN: This is probably the last boatload of shrimp that will come out of Barataria Bay for the foreseeable future. Oil invaded the bay last weekend, and started drifting northward. Officials closed the last stretch of the fishing ground this morning.

Donovan Hinton is a charter boat deckhand. He says the charter fishing season is pretty much ruined.

DONOVAN HINTON, Charter Boat Deckhand: Probably 30 trips, we canceled this morning.

TOM BEARDEN: Some of the people we talked to were pleased that President Obama was visiting the Gulf today, but Hinton wonders if the president knows what people here are really facing.

DONOVAN HINTON: We could offer him some — some boat rides and show him some things out there, rather than — a lot better than what you can see in an airplane, a helicopter. I know he’s not — he likes to fly a lot, but he needs to take some time and go in a boat with some local boys and really see what is going out there.

TOM BEARDEN: Charter captain Jim Meynard doesn’t think shutting down exploratory drilling in the Gulf is the answer.

JIM MEYNARD, charter fishing boat owner: Oh, I think that is crazy. I think the rigs out there can be safe, but they need somebody to watch them. And you need this oil. This oil is — supports this country. If you start doing that, then you’re going to shut down people — jobs on these rigs.

I can’t say anything against the people that are out there. They are out there trying to make a living, just like we are. So, why not let it go, but put more restraints on?

TOM BEARDEN: Michael Roberts and Tracy Kuhns’ fishing boat is tied up at the dock behind their house, and it isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

Michael is filling his time transporting materials for a fishing camp renovation project. He signed up with BP to work on the cleanup, but the company has never called. The spill dominates conversation with neighbors, like David Fricke, who is semi-retired. Like everybody else, he’s angry.

MAN: People like me that came down here and bought this place for a specific reason, changed my lifestyle, have something that I look forward to all my life, and now they have destroyed it, because I can’t go fishing where I want to. And I am going to sue.

TOM BEARDEN: We asked Roberts and Kuhns what they would like to say to the president.

MICHAEL ROBERTS, shrimper, Barataria, Louisiana: Stop acting like you work for BP oil. The response has been pitiful. I mean, I have been to meetings with the Coast Guard. Everybody is downplaying the oil spill.

I have been at three different meetings where the Coast Guard told me that it’s just a sheen on the water. Well, a sheen on the water violates the Clean Water Act of the United States. So, how come, when BP puts a sheen on the water, it is OK; it’s no big deal; it’s just a sheen on the water?

I was told that by a commander in the Coast Guard at a meeting in Dulac. So, that commander answers to an admiral. That admiral answers further up, and that the buck stops at President Bush. Rein in your federal agencies and have these people start doing their jobs down here in South Louisiana. We are being destroyed by this oil spill.

TRACY KUHNS, shrimper, Barataria, Louisiana: Now, the difference between the federal response after the storms, after Katrina, and now is that President Obama has sent agency people down to the community level, and they have held meetings and they have had listening sessions. And you can see them taking notes.

The problem is, is they are taking — listening, but then there is no response. It is like they are protecting BP, rather than the citizens. And their job is to protect us.

TOM BEARDEN: It’s not just the fisherman in Louisiana who are upset about all this. People in three other states are also affected.

Over in Picayune, Mississippi, about an hour to the east, Tony Carbone is also wondering what the future holds.

TONY CARBONE, owner, Carbone Dockside Restaurant: Yes, I am — I’m, yes, very scared, very scared. This is our life. Seafood has been our life. We are in our third generation. It’s what we were born doing. I think I have a fraction of saltwater in my blood. And people ask me why I won’t leave the South. Because I tell them my gills will dry up.

TOM BEARDEN: Carbone’s Dockside Restaurant is all about seafood, shrimp on ice, live crawfish carefully sorted And oysters in the deep fryer, but no Louisiana blue crab. Like everybody else around here, Carbone is worried about whether he will be able to buy enough seafood to stay in business. And he worries that Louisiana once again won’t get the attention he thinks it deserves.

TONY CARBONE: We are just such a big, powerful nation. And we — Louisiana once again, I guess maybe we should be feeling like treat us as, I don’t know, a Third World country, which I hate to say that, but we are slower to respond, it seems like, in South Louisiana than we respond to other areas around the world.

TOM BEARDEN: Carbone’s disappointed with the federal response to the disaster, and he would really like President Obama to provide more frequent updates to the people in the coastal states.

TONY CARBONE: He is making a second visit. We welcome him. We are certainly glad to see him again. It would have been nice — and we’re glad he came on the onset of it. That was great. I think the public would have felt a little more comfortable and would have liked to have seen him really on a daily basis giving us a briefing on what is going on behind the scenes.

He’s talking today about what’s — what has been done. But it sure would have been nice to hear him, see him come say what is being done on a daily basis.

TOM BEARDEN: George Lods also needs some encouragement. He has a seafood wholesale business and a huge freezer full of product. A lot of his customers started stocking up when the oil started pouring out of the seafloor more than a month ago, but business has dropped off dramatically.

GEORGE LODS, seafood wholesaler: In the beginning, everybody was rushing to scoop up whatever they could do to supply, put it in their freezers, and buy ahead in case it kept on.

And now it has — business has fallen off the last couple of weeks, just as many people, I feel, that were running out to buy and stock their freezers and hurry up before prices went up, some people, I think, in the general public is backing off and saying, wait a minute, I don’t want to eat this.

TOM BEARDEN: He wants people’s faith in seafood restored. And he thinks the oil companies have to make things right by capping the well.

GEORGE LODS: My personal opinion, I think they are doing what they are capable of doing. They probably could do a little bit more. But BP and Transocean, that was their rig, that was their business, just like this is my business. If something happens here, I’m responsible for it. The government can only do so much. They didn’t drill the well. They can’t stop it. That is not their expertise.

TOM BEARDEN: He doesn’t blame the president or the federal government for the explosion or the spill.

GEORGE LODS: I think it is his responsibility to see that BP and that we do everything we can to clean up this mess. But the president didn’t make the oil well blow. The government really don’t — doesn’t know what to do.

The people that are in the oil field business know what to do, and they can tell the government, hey, we need this and we need that. But the government is not in the shrimping business either. They can’t tell the shrimpers how to go catch shrimp. I don’t think they can tell BP how to clean it up, because that is not the government’s job.

TOM BEARDEN: In his younger days, Lods was a fisherman. He plans to volunteer to work on a shrimp boat for free, if he can find one still operating, because he wants to experience that one more time, in case the oil disaster prevents him from ever shrimping again.