Grand Isle Rally for Truth
Grand Isle rally proves BP oil spill, repercussions far from over for Gulf Coast residents
by Kari Dequine
More than 100 people from across Louisiana and neighboring states gathered outside a daiquiri shop on Louisiana 1 to show support, share resources and information, and speak loudly and passionately about issues facing the community.
Lasting several hours, the rally featured prayers, songs and food, mixed with angry, tearful and even heart-wrenching testimony about the tiny strip of land that, just seven months ago, was thought of by some residents as Louisiana’s slice of paradise.
More than a dozen speakers made it clear that anger, distrust and uncertainty still consume many who are still feeling the effects of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that unleashed 170 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
“Y’all just come on up,” host Dean Blanchard, the owner of Dean Blanchard Seafood, called out to the politicians who showed up to say a few words.
Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle spoke first, promising to continue fighting for proper compensation from BP. “Mr. Feinberg,” he shouted, referring to federal claims fund administrator Kenneth Feinberg, “come to Grand Isle, and when you do, bring your checkbook.”
“This fight is not going to be over this year, or next, or the next after that,” declared Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser. Expressing anger that parishes not directly touched by the oil spill are receiving tens of millions of dollars in compensation, Nungesser said coastal parishes deserve a larger share.
Actor Stephen Baldwin made a surprise appearance, describing his experiences in the area while filming a documentary. “I just want to do what I can to be part of the solution,” he said.
And while many coastal residents and business owners have received money from BP, Blanchard said, “How do we know if it is enough? They try to pressure you into taking a small amount of money when you don’t know what the future holds.”
Grand Isle councilmember Leoda Bladsacker urged everyone, even those not in the seafood industry, to file a claim. “You don’t know what is going to happen,” she said.
Rally organizer Karen Hopkins stressed that a main goal was to provide a forum for everyone to share their stories. “The objective of the event,” she said, “is to meet with Gulf Coast residents and present our case, regarding the health of our people, the impact on our communities, etc. We want to compile a ‘history’ of our feelings, experiences, beliefs, whatever they may be, since the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.”
Some of the day’s most disturbing accounts related to the testing and safety of Gulf seafood and the health problems many claim are a result of the oil or of the unprecedented amounts of dispersant sprayed to help control it.
Numerous people reported staph infections, rashes, headaches, respiratory problems and some more serious conditions they suspect were linked to the oil or dispersants.
“Till this day, we have not gotten anyone to do anything regarding health issues,” said Clint Guidry of the Louisiana Seafood Association.
Guidry cited the damage he said can be caused by a highly toxic ingredient in the dispersant Corexit. “It takes out your liver, kidneys and lungs, and the neurotoxins eat up the brain,” Guidry said. “This is a big, big issue. It’s not something to play around with.”
“We feel like we are being lied to on so many levels,” said Mac MacKenzie of NOLA Emergency Response, a volunteer group formed after the spill. MacKenzie told the crowd about troubling results of independent tests she said were conducted on a batch of shrimp she bought at a dock in Venice.
Some of the official tests for seafood safety looked only at shrimp that had been deveined and did not test the heads or shells, she said. When she made a stock from the shrimp she bought, she said, there was “sludge” on the bottom of the pan.
In 8,403 square miles of Gulf waters opened last week, MacKenzie said, only 50 individual shrimp were tested before shrimp from the waters were declared safe for consumption.
Peter Brabeck, an environmental monitor for the group Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said that testing procedures are “inadequate” and tests are not being done for all potentially dangerous chemicals.
Paul Bassman said he traveled to the rally from Arabi to show his support. He worked as a shrimper on Grand Isle for more than 30 years, but after being hospitalized and told by his doctors to “get out of there,” he said, he sold his boat and business and moved away.
“He’s been a basket case,” said his wife.
Tracy Kuhns of Louisiana Bayoukeeper, a nonprofit group based in Lafitte, said she hopes rallies like Saturday’s will be held in every coastal community. Kuhns said people in the fishing community have a continuing need for help with filling out claim forms as well as for reliable information on health risks.