Can politics both make coastal residents feel like they are better prepared for the oil spill while also making them more vulnerable to the oil spill’s dangers? Of course it can, and nowhere else on the Gulf Coast is that more evident than in Mississippi.
Intermingled with the occasional sound bite, the politicians in the coastal states seemingly work together but are really working in self interest. Local politicians seem to make it a sport to point the finger at, or even blame, the Federal government for the response or lack of response or if the response is not exactly as they promised their constituents.
The problem does not have a single cause, nor will there be a single solution. Take the sand berm idea thrown about in Louisiana. The plan there is to build a miles long sand berm out of sand being dredged out of the Gulf near Chandeleurs Islands. The idea being that if oil hit the sand berm, then it would be easier to clean off of sand than from the soggy marshland.
Key leaders in Louisiana, though, have been thumping their chests ever since they came up with the plan. Plaquemines Parish President, Billy Nungesser, has been the most vocal and visible person, charging in late June that Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen needed to be replaced. According to a Sun Herald report, he stated that “
This all started because when the Parish and State submitted their request to build the berm, they gave the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers 72 hours of research before they started throwing accusations. In a Times-Picayune article, Mr. Nungesser repeatedly blames Admiral Allen for the delay in approval for the sand berm, but Admiral Allen stated that the plan was still under review to assess the damage to the surrounding environment that would be caused by erecting the berm.
The results were interesting. The creation of the berm could, but is not guaranteed to, keep oil out of the marshes, but it would do nothing for the oil already there. In keeping the oil out of the marsh, it could destroy the barrier islands that protect the wetlands from hurricanes and storm surge. It would also push the oil onto Mississippi beaches, a detail not highlighted very often. As oil pushes into the Mississippi Sound, it would force the closure of all fishing grounds as well as make swimming a much more hazardous past-time.
But in Mississippi, there appear to be different problems. While being told that the Coast is “Open for Business,” it appears that the oil never got the memo. In fact, the Department of Environmental Quality, on June 25, closed state waters east of the Gulfport Shipping Channel to shrimping. Additional closures are expected as the lucky streak for Mississippi appears to be at an end.
For Mississippi, though, their leadership appears to be nearly absent as oil rolls in. Coast residents are finding that as important events occur, Governor Haley Barbour, increasingly, is out of state and unable, or unwilling, to return. When President Barack Obama visited the Coast governors recently, Governor Barbour was in New York City having a Mississippi-themed picnic in Central Park. When oil began to be spotted in the Mississippi Sound, Governor Barbour was in Washington, D.C., holding a fundraiser for the Republican Party.
In response, Governor Barbour is quoted by the Sun Herald as saying, “Constant physical presence is not required if you have the right people, the right team in place, and we do.” This comes mere weeks after many criticized Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, for taking a vacation at a yacht race. This also comes just days after criticism surfaced after it became known that President Barack Obama played a few rounds of golf.
To Governor Barbour’s credit, he did come back to the coast on Friday after learning that large patches of oil had entered the Sound. It has left many coast residents wondering, though, whether political ambitions of a few will be the downfall of the many.