The oiled beach of Waveland – and all is clear!

July 4,2010

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Pelicans and seagulls safe and secure – no oil impacted birds observed

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I went down to the beach at Waveland today. I have to say, it is cleaner than it has ever been. There was more debris on the beach from the fireworks and party goers last night than impact from the oil spill. I did get some great photographs, waded in the ocean, took a long breath of that fresh sea air – and it was fresh.

The beach was being cleaned by oil cleanup workers – some in suits and some just in jeans and T-shirts. I chatted with several of the “workers” – all working for contractors of BP if I understood their explanations. All, the the nth man, said they were working seven days a week and long long hours – rain hail or shine. Each of them expressed frustration at the negative comments passed by so many to them that are hurtful and negative. They each talked about an “angry lttle ole lady” who had been harassing them at the beach on and off since they had got there a few days ago. Since they are working hard to clean up “her beach” they were at a loss as to why she was directing her angry tirade at them. It was obvious no one is working with these crews to help them deal with the public or to identify the anger is not at them – but at a feeling of helplessness and an event.

As in Alaska where the community was split by the spillionaires, here on the coast the debris kings, and now “the workers”. Note the “the” in there – it is a southern colloquial additive to anything that is culturally out of reach to the poor like “the coast”, or the residents of Waveland referring to the residents of “The Kiln”, actually “Da Kiln” who are living a lower income lifestyle as compared to those on “the beach”. Never just the town of “Kiln”. Now we have “The workers”.

I chatted at length with these hard working folks – when I assured them I was not with a newspaper they showed obvious signs of relief. The first team were on a skiff – both college students from the northern part of Mississippi who were working to save for tuition next semester. Both proud of their job, proud of their boat (making sure I got a picture of them in the boat), and very proud to be working for BP. They had pulled into shore to use the bathroom – a porta potty half a black away.

Another boat contained workers from Ocean Springs, Moss Point, and Lucedale. They were putting booms on the bayou outlets to prevent infiltration of oil back into the Bayou. The wind was blowing, the waves getting more frequent and they were being buffeted against the seawal as they were driving in posts to hold the boomsl. All three told me of the long hours, the rough conditions, and how proud they were to be contributing to the recovery effort. They wanted to know where their pictures would be and so we exchanged information.

The only complaint I heard all morning was that the workers are at the mercy of the contractors under who they are hired to work. They all complained of a lack of an appeals process, the notion that this is a disaster and they are not entitled to breaks, and that they have been threatened to tow the line, keep quiet, or there are hundreds in line waiting to get to work for BP. What I heard all morning had tones of “plantation mentality” and is certainly needs to be addressed.

It is obvious that BP has this beach cleanup here in Waveland under control – it was organized and thorough. If only the locals had taken their fireworks trash with them last night – else the beach would have been a picture perfect Norman Rockwell scene. Except for the water – it had this tinge of orange and black flakes that were not oil – but of unknown origin. I have never seen this debris in the water before.

The beach, though, was abandoned except for one family for the miles I drove from Bay St. Louis to the point out near Silver Slipper. What a waste of miles of pristine white sands. There were plenty of birds – Pelicans, Seagulls and others – not one showing signs of oil contamination. They were all just sitting there waiting for the rain which was moving in from the horizon sprinkling down between the rays of sun. Just a typical perfect summer day here on the Gulf Coast.

So, thank you BP – I hope this process continues as smoothly as it appeared today. I personally felt assured that the recovery team is on on the right path.

BY: Kathleen Johnson-Director

Katrina Relief-Waveland Citizens Fund

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