On Monday, I toured the waters off Grand Isle and their beaches with a group who came ready to learn more about the BP Oil Spill, and to help the community which is reeling. Joining me were the actors Sophia Bush and Austin Nichols, writer Justine Musk, and Global Green's Beth Galante and Camille Lopez.
Unfortunately, the fears I wrote about in my last post were affirmed -- it was essentially a police state on the beaches of Grand Isle. We wanted to help in the efforts to clean up the spill, and find out how other volunteers can help as well.
We spent the morning touring the waters off Grand Isle, seeing the oil splashing up against the rocks of the bird sanctuary, seeing the oil gathering, and floating in patches everywhere. While on the water, the Coast Guard came for a closer inspection of what we were doing.
Later, we went to the beach to see first hand what was happening with the clean up, and to see how we could help.
As I placed my foot on the BP-created sand berm separating us from the BP-placed tiger boom on this public beach, I immediately heard a siren (if you closely watch the video below you can see me placing my foot on the berm and hear the sirens). Looking to my left, I saw two ATV's racing toward me with flashing lights. I expected the BP security guards I had heard about.
Instead, two Jefferson County sheriff's deputies pulled up and asked me to step away from the berm. They immediately asked us to turn off the camera, but when Beth on our staff stated she was an attorney they did not ask again.
I asked where they got their clearly brand spanking new ATV's -- the sheriff's affirmed they came from BP, even though they had a Jefferson County Sheriff logo. They also affirmed they were fun to drive, that BP was paying the bills, and BP was calling the shots, ultimately.
The deputies also affirmed that if I went on the other side of the tiger boom, they would ask me to come back to the other side. If I did not come to the other side, they would arrest me. Beth pressed them that this was a public beach, and asked how could they do that? Under what authority?
One of the deputies then said it was basically a crime scene.
WOW. A crime scene that BP is overseeing, the perpetrator is in charge. How is that possible? Volunteers are not allowed to help clean up the beach, to document the clean up and impact, and assure that we hold BP accountable, because BP is in charge of their own crime scene?
A little later, we went on a pier to help document the impacts of the spill, and had perhaps one of the more poignant moments of our trip. We met a 7 year old boy, Brady, and his grandmother, who spend their summers at Grand Isle. Brady said he no longer could play in the ocean and could only fly a kite while watching cleanup workers on the barren beach. When Sophia and Austin asked him what he thought of the oil spill, he said "I hate it."
What can we do to help Brady, the fishermen of Grand Isle, and the suffering ecosystems and marine life?
We all need to speak out, loudly. We all need to demand the federal government assure BP use every reasonable measure available to stop the spill, to hold BP accountable to restore the damage (to the ecosystems, marine life, and economy of the fishing communities), and that this can never happen again. We all need to take actions in our own life as well.
One encouraging note: Austin and Sophia had created Twitter accounts just a few days before we left for the coast, with the express purpose of educating their fans about the BP Oil Spill, and what the could do. Now they have tens of thousands of followers who have learned about the impacts of the Spill and are beginning to respond. Thousands signed the letter to President Obama, and many donated to help support Global Green's efforts.
It was a long day Monday (I'll write more about the 'environmental fair' BP hosted and we stopped by - along with our call for a Declaration for Energy Independence as we prepare to mark the 4th of July - in another post), but each of us came away more informed, and empowered to reclaim our roles as citizens of this great nation. After our trip, we were angrier about what we witnessed and even more dedicated to help get the word out about the need to help suffering communities and wildlife now.
Follow Matt Petersen on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mathew_petersen