PASS CHRISTIAN, Miss. — Tempers flared at a town meeting led by U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker here on Sunday.
Commercial fishermen, out-of-work charter boat captains, city leaders, grass roots organization members and weary residents gathered at Shaggy’s restaurant on the harbor seeking answers from Wicker and other officials about BP’s response to the oil spill.
The fishermen’s anger was directed at BP, which they believe is giving jobs to recreational fishermen instead of them, and at national media reports, which they say give the impression the Mississippi Coast is covered in oil.
“We have reached the boiling point,” said Wade Blackwell, a lifelong fisherman in Pass Christian. “Those of us who are working fisherman are not being called back to work this oil spill. We only see recreational boats and retired folks being used. This is our life and nobody will call us back from BP and now the phone numbers they gave us are disconnected. We have not seen any money, either.”
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Wicker responded by saying BP is now a new kind of bureaucracy.
“But we will try to get these problems resolved,” Wicker told the crowd.
Leonie Johnston of Fins and Grins Charters said he believes the fight against the oil offshore now is too little, too late.
“We are dead in the water,” Johnston told the senator. “We are thrilled with the coverage on the Coast that our waters are safe and open but the national news is telling America we are closed. The message is not getting out that we are open, and we are all starving.”
Asian-American fishermen in attendance told officials they are without work now because of the BP oil spill, and some of them are still feeling the effects of Hurricane Katrina. There is also the language barrier.
“The Asian-American community does not understand the federal process and help for them is not clear, because they do not understand. There needs to be help breaking down this language barrier,” said Kaitlin Truong, chairman for the Asian Americans for Change.
Wicker said BP is trying to help, but agreed there is a language barrier.
“We will take all of these comments back to BP and try to address all of them,” Wicker again told the group. “Although we are not responsible for BP’s actions we know they are in trouble.”
Department of Marine Resources Executive Director Bill Walker said tar balls recently discovered off Horn Island and Petit Bois are in manageable amounts and are being cleaned up and taken to the landfill.
“We are not seeing a great amount of oil in our waters at all,” Walker reassured the group.
“The NOAA lines on the maps tell us that they are 95 percent sure the oil is not there. The national news is just coloring the entire region brown so that it looks like the oil is all over this area, and it is not.”