Guest blog by Callie Casstevens, LABB intern
Yesterday I went back to Grand Isle with a group of hazmat, hazwoper, emergency response trained volunteers. We rented a cabin on Grand Isle, ready to help do anything we could. The first thing I saw when we pulled down the narrow road to our cabin, was a group of fishermen washing down their boat which was sprayed with reddish/brown oil, the line of chemicals dripping off the boat in a stream down into the ditch.
The start to our day consisted of picking up Jefferson Parish City councilman, John Young. My friend Rene Merino and I drove to pick him up in my car, which has no a/c, but Mr. Young never complained once. Mr. Young discussed how frustrated he was with the entire lack of federal help and/or response. BP, a foreign corporation has taken control of Parish operations, and prohibited any outside help. This is exactly what the group wanted to talk to him about. When we arrived at the cabin everyone sat down to discuss with him what we all have gone through, experienced, and witnessed. He talked to us about the various solutions that were not being implemented, the lack of federal help, the need to bypass much of the red tape that exists. Bureaucracy is something that has prohibited catastrophes, much like Hurricane Katrina, from being remedied. I suggested to him that Jefferson Parish should take control, initiate its own volunteer groups and regain power over their Parishes. Mr. Young seemed enthusiastic about helping and looking into the potential of having certified, specially trained volunteers collaborate efforts in order to remedy the situation.
Once Mr. Young left, the groups decided to take visual inspection of the beaches. When we arrived, we were greeted with BP cleanup crews which were “calling it a day,” it was five o’clock. However, BP security seems to work 24/7, I was angry thinking about this aspect, BP can hire surveillance and security to work around the clock, yet, they cannot hire cleanup crews to properly take care of our coast line 24/7? After all, the oil does not take breaks, it is constant, like the energizer bunny the oil keeps going and going and going…
When we reached the beach shore, we saw an infinite number of tar balls, globs of red piercing the sand every few inches. We could barely walk down the shoreline without stepping on them. Then we noticed something even more horrifying, a yellowish/green cobweb of slime lined the entire shoreline for miles. We realized it was evidence of dispersant. It was webbed over and through the sand, sticking to it like glue, the smell was toxic. Our hearts breaking we looked up to the sky to watch a V shape of Brown pelicans flying over our heads, I think we all said a little prayer for them at that point.
Walking further down the shore line, with BP security following us, we reached the jetty rocks. The rocks looked like a murder scene, splattered oil was splashed over each rock, red and brown ooze collecting around the bottom. The thickness of the oil caught me off guard, it looked like cake batter, so thick we could take a stick and swish it around like a chef would ingredients in a mixing bowl. Every time a wave hit the rocks, more oil stayed behind. We noticed something in the sand and realized it was boom, with the BP cleanup crew having just left, they had actually left behind boom on the shore. How are they actually disposing of the boom? What are they actually doing? The shore was a mess, the rocks looked like they were dipped in a vat of oil, and contaminated boom littered the sand. What is going on? We are going on day 53 now, as Mr. Young said, “This is a war..” And as far as I can tell, we are losing.
The group needed a break, hearts were breaking and the sun was setting. We all sat on the balcony of the Grand Isle Marina taking the situation in. We decided that as certified, trained individuals we could make a difference. There are thousands of people across the nation that are dying to help, yet BP says no. This is our coastline, these are our parishes, if we can witness this in one day, just how bad is the next wave going to be? Because as one of the volunteers said, “This is so scary because this is only the beginning…” So, I have a suggestion BP, do what is right and stop the leak, take note from Norway, who has safety measures in place “just in case” events like yours happen, Norway oil rigs actually plant containment barges next to the rigs just in case leaks occur.
BP, the Gulf Coast wants you to stop the leak and stop telling our Parish officials and residents to stand back, and just walk away. We will not walk away and we will be here working 24/7, unlike you, to do what we can. This reminds me of a quote by author Tom Peters who said, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.”