Too Little, Too Late?

After repeatedly fighting for the project to begin, Bay St. Louis officials watched Thursday as BP contractors started, literally at the 11th hour, to build a protective boom across the mouth of the bay.

As workers drove an anchor for the boom into the sand at Henderson Point, city officials looked anxiously to the east, where oil from the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe had been washing on the beach at Pass Christian – three miles away.

The project is the first of two boom systems planned for the mouth of the Bay of St. Louis, to try and block oil. Throughout the week, the stuff has marched steadily westward after entering the Mississippi Sound.

It encroached at Pascagoula, Biloxi, Gulfport, Long Beach, on the barrier islands, and finally at Pass Christian.

Mayor Les Fillingame, who has beseeched the state, the Coast Guard and BP for days to get busy on protecting the bay, watched in disgust. “I’ve been burning up the phone,” he said. “I can promise you, this morning, these guys had no plans to be doing this today.”

But Thursday afternoon, the workers finally rolled up on Henderson Point and began offloading 18-inch boom on the beach. “They were supposed to be here days ago,” Deputy Bay St. Louis Police Chief Mike De Nardo said. “They finally got here at three o’clock.”

A glob of oil or “tar ball” on the each at Pass Christian on Thursday.

The experience has become typical since the British Petroleum drama began with the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploding on April 20. Despite multiple meetings with BP, the Coast Guard, representatives of the White House and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as multiple state agencies, officials in Hancock County say their pleas for protection have fallen on ears that are negligent at worst, confused at best.

For days in the beginning, local officials passed their concerns along to a Unified Command in Biloxi, only to eventually learn they were talking to the wrong people. They had to go to Mobile, they belatedly learned.

The issue came to a boil Thursday morning at a regular emergency operations meeting in Waveland. It was announced that BP would be bringing in heavy ocean boom to block off the bay that afternoon.

“That ocean boom has been promised to be started today, for the past six days,” Fillingame said.

Then, a Coast Guard commander informed those at the meeting that his agency did not plan to take action and mobilize oil skimmers until oil actually arrives onshore. It was also announced that no oil reconnaissance was taking place offshore Thursday morning, because it was raining.

Then, at another meeting that morning, local officials said Bill Walker, director of the state Department of Marine Resources, informed them there were no oil skimmers located in the state.

“He told us today, ‘we don’t have any skimmers in Mississippi right now,” said Bay St. Louis Councilwoman Wendy McDonald.

Earlier in the day, McDonald said she found the pronouncement about oil cleanup by Coast Guard Cmdr. Pete Kilmer “mind-boggling. We have planes that fly into hurricanes,” she said. “If they’re too chicken to go out, give the job to our local fishermen. They’ll do it.”

The 18-inch boom being laid off Henderson Point was for areas close to the shoreline, and officials said the small boom has already been proven virtually useless. On Friday, larger ocean boom was to be laid two miles across the bay, from Henderson Point to the Washington Street boat launch, with a gate in the middle at the deep-water channel.

If, that is, the oil had not already washed into the bay.

“There is no sense of urgency in being preemptive, and that’s infuriating,” McDonald said.

“This is it,” Fillingame said. “It’s all got to happen today.”

BY: J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

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