Gov. Haley Barbour and U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor emerged from a BP catastrophe meeting Monday afternoon feeling more confident that cleanup operations in Mississippi will improve after the weekend’s dismal performance.

More skimmers capable of mopping up oil will be added to the cleanup fleet, they said. More importantly, Barbour said, communications have been streamlined. Rather than going through Unified Command in Mobile, the Coast Guard command in Mississippi will talk directly to cleanup contractors steering Vessels of Opportunity, skimmers and other operations.

“I can’t tell you it will be perfect,” Barbour said at a news conference after the meeting, “but I can tell you with a degree of certainty that it’s going to be better. We’re going to continue to capture all the oil we can while it’s in the water. That’s the most important thing we can do.”

Still, Barbour acknowledged, Mississippi needs more skimmers in the water.

“We have to be honest with the public that, right now, we don’t have enough skimming capacity if the oil off our shores keeps coming in,” Barbour said. He said efforts must shift to signing up larger vessels with the capacity to stay out overnight collecting oil.

The state already has rounded up three skimmers and is having half a dozen large pontoon boats retrofitted for skimming, which takes only about half a day, said Bill Walker, who heads the state Department of Marine Resources.

“They’re going in the water as they get done,” Walker said. “It’s getting better. Now that we’ve got our own skimmer boats, we can send them where they need to go.” The state also has commissioned construction of additional skimmers.

The Coast Guard also has agreed to Taylor’s plan for staging areas at the barrier islands so vessels can respond more quickly to oil sightings. Cmdr. Jason Merriweather, Coast Guard deputy incident commander and federal on-scene coordinator for Mississippi, said efforts will concentrate on collecting oil in the passes between the barrier islands.

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