GULFPORT — The Mississippi Gulf of Mexico Commission held its first meeting Tuesday and commissioners said their goal is to create a long-term plan for recovery from the BP oil gusher.
At the meeting at the Hancock Bank building there was a flap over Gov. Haley Barbour not including commercial fishermen on the panel.
Officials from the departments of Marine Resources and Environmental Quality, the local business community, scientists and representatives from Coast counties and cities met in a packed conference room. Barbour said a number of planning efforts are going on now, but he wanted Mississippi to have a group involved that was representative the Coast.
“I thought the best thing for us as a state is to have one group that is representative of the Coast that can not only share its experience and information, but also can prove as an inclusive body to meet with other groups to invite people to come in and to have public meetings,” Barbour said.
The governor said he wanted to make sure the state was moving forward with the best information available. He wants the commission to work closely with the Gulf of Mexico Alliance and various state agencies to develop a plan to submit to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, the former governor of Mississippi who has been tapped to oversee the nation’s long-term restoration of the Gulf.
The governor told the group he wanted them to come up with several ideas for recovery and bring them to a commission meeting in September.
“It is really important that ya’ll give some clarity to the rest of the group on what really matters from y’all’s perspective,” Barbour said.
Barbour also faced tough questions from a local woman at the meeting.
Linda St. Martin, who has been affiliated with the state Democratic Party and Coast environmental causes, interrupted Barbour’s remarks, criticizing him for not including commercial fishermen on the panel.
She said she would like to see 1/3 of the group composed of fishermen.
She said without fishermen and conservationist groups, the commission was “bogus” and added Barbour didn’t understand the current plight of fishermen, which was caused by the spill.
“If this group was representative, there would be commercial fishermen sitting here, members of the Gulf Restoration Network and the Sierra Club or other recognized conservationist groups,” St. Martin told Barbour.
“There are not, and we can tell, sir, by your actions today, you have no intentions of appointing the fishing families, or any of the commercial fisherman, or conservationists to this group. This body is bogus.”
Barbour asked her to conclude her remarks, to which she replied the group has no one to express their concerns.
For a few minutes Barbour responded to St. Martin’s questions.
Several officers with the Mississippi Highway Patrol moved to approach St. Martin but the governor waved them off.
He also told some others in the audience they would have an opportunity to speak and he continued his remarks.
After the meeting Barbour told reporters that though there are representatives from a charter boat captains’ association and the seafood industry on the panel, he didn’t realize the committee actually didn’t include any commercial seafood fisherman until St. Martin brought it to his attention. He expects one to be added.
“I thought the idea of a commercial fisherman is a good idea,” he said.
“The idea that a third of the commission be fishermen is, of course, not a serious idea. I was surprised when they said there wasn’t a commercial fisherman…. I think we’ll add a commercial fisherman. I think that will be useful.”
Barbour also said there would also be public meetings so others can be given a chance to weigh in.
St. Martin, who is listed on official Democratic Party Web sites as a member of both the state and Harrison County Democratic executive committees, has interrupted Barbour’s remarks before.
In 2008 she was escorted from the crowd at the Neshoba County Fair when she repeatedly yelled the name of a murder victim at the governor during his speech in Founder’s Square.
St. Martin yelled the name of “Adrienne Klasky” until she was escorted away. At the time Barbour was under fire after his decision to suspend the life sentence of Michael David Graham, who was convicted of killing his ex-wife, Adrienne Klasky, in Pascagoula. Barbour’s move outraged Klasky’s friends and survivors. At the fair St. Martin also said she was giving a voice to those who have none.
“(Klasky) can’t speak for herself,” she told the Sun Herald on the day she was escorted from the fair.
“Who will say the name of Adrienne Klasky? I made the decision today that I would.”