I was driving back to New Orleans last night from a soulful interfaith prayer service in recognition of the oil spill at the Houma/Terrabonne Civic Center, when rapid-fire phone interviews with parish presidents pierced through the radio.
The WWL interviews with St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro and the nearly famous Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser furiously expounded on the Thursday morning meeting with all parish presidents, mayors, Admiral Thad Allen, the National Incident Commander of the Unified Command for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and Doug Suttles, Chief Operating Officer of BP Exploration and Production.
Unfortunately, the meeting unexpectedly turned into a "listening session" describes Taffaro,
"Here we are thinking we're going to a meeting to discuss post-capping activities, and we're handed a plan before there's even a discussion. It just sort of illustrated the very source of our frustration."
The parish presidents finally protested and demanded to express their thoughts and concerns. Admiral Allen assured the crowd that because the oil well would not be capped permanently for another 10 days at least, no assets would be removed before the local leadership had a chance to agree on a plan and schedule another discussion with United Command leadership.
Feeling skeptical, Taffaro immediately asked if the commitment to retain all assets was supported at all levels of the United Command, and he received a rousing confirmation from the head voices at the table.
Immediately following the meeting, Taffaro received calls and emails from Houma command and BP leadership contradicting this very commitment and a letter greeted him the next morning to announce that as parish president, he did not have any authority that the Coast Guard could not supersede. Moreover, if the Coast Guard or BP wanted to move assets without the consent of the parish president, they had the authority to do so.
On the same day, deputies from the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Office pulled over trucks with loaded boom attempting to leave the base. A few miles away, Taffaro received a message that five trucks were heading toward the Oakdale Base to remove boats from his parish. As a result, Taffaro issued an Executive Order to declare that no assets related to the oil spill response be removed from St. Bernard Parish. Although he hopes the executive order will send a strong enough message, he explained that if a truck still attempts to remove assets they will need federal intervention to pave the road to the base.
Why are the parish presidents angry and frustrated?
I recorded sections of the revealing radio interviews and added some small effects for emphasis. Take a look and listen:
"I just don't understand how this is coming to pass. We're in the middle of hurricane season, we have boats and planes that are identifying oil every day, and we're having to fight to convince the very people who have the authority to help us that it exists!" Explained Taffaro.
Has the oil disappeared? Or, do we need to be asking a few different questions: Why are parish presidents and affected community members easily able to spot oil slick and sheen? What is the process for cleaning up the millions of gallons of subsurface oil that now seems to be out-of-sight and out-of-mind?