GULFPORT, Miss. — A morning flight over the Mississippi Sound showed long, wide ribbons of orange-colored oil for as far as the eye could see and acres of both heavy and light sheen moving into the Sound between the barrier islands. What was missing was any sign of skimming operations from Horn Island to Pass Christian.
U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor got off the flight angry.
"It’s criminal what’s going on out there," Taylor said minutes later. "This doesn’t have to happen.”
A scientist onboard, Mike Carron with the Northern Gulf Institute, said with this scenario, there will be oil on the beaches of the mainland.
“There’s oil in the Sound and there was no skimming,” Carron said. “No coordinated effort.”
Taylor said it was a good thing he didn’t have a mic in the helicopter, because he might have said some things he didn’t want his children to hear.
“They’re paying all these boats to run around like headless chickens,” Taylor said, as reporters gathered to hear his assessment of the Sound.
There has been hope among state officials the islands would stop a lot of the oil and skimmers could take care of the passes or breaks between the islands.
Horn Island was doing its part Saturday, observers pointed out. The wiggly lines of sheen were coming straight at it from the south, headed for the island’s southern beaches. The island had boom in place to protect the inlets and sensitive wetlands along its northern shore, the side that faces the mainland.
Even the Pascagoula River was doing its part.
Carron pointed out the line where the river’s fresh water met the Sound’s salt water near Horn Island. All along the line was the orange oil caught between the two types of water and held at bay.
But where the failure came was in the human effort.
There were dozens of boats of all sizes running around, some leaving trails through the sheen. Two boats among a group near Ship Island were pulling boom in a line, but not using it to round up oil. That was at 10 a.m.
Taylor slipped a note to a fellow passenger.
It said: “I’m having a Katrina flashback. I haven’t seen this much stupidity, wasted effort, money and wasted resources, since then.”
Back on land in Gulfport, Taylor let loose.
“A lot of people are getting paid to say, ‘Look! There’s oil’ and not doing anything about it,” Taylor said. “There shouldn’t be a drop of oil in the Sound. There are enough boats running around.
“Nobody’s in charge,” Taylor said. “Everybody’s in charge, so no one’s in charge.
“If the president can’t find anyone who can do this job,” he said, “let me do it.”
Taylor and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., took the morning flight on a National Guard helicopter with representatives of the state DEQ and BP.
After the flight Wicker said he feels it’s not too late for President Barack Obama to accept help from other countries that have offered the services of their large oil-skimming boats.
Wicker blamed bureaucracy and the president, but said, “Mississippi has been a champ from the beginning of this.”
He also said he noticed BP has been slow to accept prevention plans from local governments.
Taylor was ready for action.
Katrina wasn’t preventable, he said, but the disaster of oil reaching Mississippi beaches is preventable.
He had said earlier that if organized right, he believed a lot of small boats, working hard and working together, could contain the floating oil.
Instead, the vessels of opportunity seem to have no game plan.
There should be some light aircraft spotting for and guiding them, said Carron, who was also puzzled by the response. “I don’t really understand it all.”
Before he took the flight, Taylor said, he had submitted a detailed plan of action to BP and the Coast Guard commander. He was on the Coast on Saturday to see if any of it was being carried out — it addressed ways to solve the lack-of-communication issues between spotters and skimmers.
He was scheduled to go aboard a boat in the Sound to see the situation from that perspective as well.
Taylor was concerned Coast Guard Cmdr. Jason Merriweather, assigned to Mississippi, doesn’t have the authority to act independently; that he reports to the Unified Command in Mobile; and that all his decision are filtered through that group.
Carron said he was just as concerned with whether there’s submerged oil coming in with the orange floating bands.
And all the while the NOAA trajectories for where the oil is heading get progressively grim for Mississippi.
Saturday’s briefing projected oil would be on the beaches of the barrier islands, the Chandeleurs, in Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. For Sunday the projection of beached oil showed thicker lines as the bulk of the oil body moved closer.
For Monday the projection was more of the same, except it included a red X at Bay St. Louis, meaning the forecast is oil will reach the mainland there.