Gov. Haley Barbour condemns a lack of resources; Rep. Gene Taylor is ‘dumbfounded’ by ‘wasted effort, wasted money and stupidity.’ Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Alex approaches.
As the shores of Biloxi, Miss., took their turn being slimed by oil Monday, Mississippi officials including Gov. Haley Barbour slammed the federal government and BP for failing to capture the crude offshore.
At a news conference Monday, Barbour said that “the plan we agreed to with the unified command and BP wasn’t being given the resources to be totally effective.” As a result, he said, “there continues to be more oil in the [Mississippi] Sound than we have the capacity to deal with, unless we get lucky.”
Speaking at the same event, Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), whose district lies on the coast, said he flew over the spill Saturday and “was dumbfounded by the amount of wasted effort, wasted money and stupidity that I saw.”
The oil was the first to hit Mississippi’s mainland since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, sending as much as 60,000 barrels of oil a day gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.
The tar balls and emulsified oil, which the governor described as “orange glop,” hit the coast over the weekend, days before the July 4 holiday. In Biloxi, where beaches and casinos are important economic engines, local officials were livid at what they called a sluggish response.
“We didn’t complain after Katrina,” said city spokesman Vincent Creel, referring to the 2005 hurricane that wiped out much of the built environment. “But for this, they’ve had two months to prepare. This is like a foot of snow falling on our city: We don’t have snowplows. We don’t have the financial resources nor do we have the physical resources to deal with it.”
Taylor and Barbour said they persuaded Coast Guard officials Monday to leave skimming boats by the barrier islands and allow crews to drop off oil-soaked booms in offshore “hopper barges” so they could avoid time-consuming trips to port.
The lawmakers said they also discussed with the Coast Guard their concern that Mississippi’s “vessels of opportunity” — the private armada signed up to help with the cleanup — didn’t have the electronic equipment to communicate with decision makers.
“But seeing is going to be believing,” Taylor said.
Criticism from Mississippi lawmakers came as the first storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, Alex, loomed in the southern Gulf of Mexico. It is expected to move west of the spill site, but Barbour said large swells could overwhelm booms and push oil farther inland.
Also Monday, Kent Wells, a BP vice president, said the storm would create waves of up to 12 feet near the leak site, forcing the company to postpone installing equipment that would help double the oil collection rate. The effort had been scheduled to start in late June but will more likely ramp up July 6 or 7, Wells said.
“Basically we’ve got about three days of additional work to do,” Wells said in a Monday news conference. “This is very … precise work. A lot of it’s done on the surface, and we require flat sea states to do that work.”
Rough seas are not expected to affect the drilling of relief wells that are meant to intercept the failed well thousands of feet below the ocean floor.
One of those wells stretches more than 16,700 total feet and is only 20 horizontal feet away from the original well. Wells said BP engineers would drill parallel to the original well before intersecting with it about 1,000 feet farther down.
“I’m really confident in the team’s chance of being successful here,” Wells said.
But worry continued to grip the coast. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal again called for federal officials to comply with his demands that artificial offshore sand berms be dredged according to a state plan. Federal officials had halted some dredging, saying the state was taking sand from a sensitive area it had agreed to leave alone.
“We need more urgency from the federal response,” Jindal said. “We need them to put the red tape aside.”
In a sign of the surreal atmosphere the spill has created, actor Peter Fonda was in Grand Isle, La., on Monday, pressuring BP officials to let him and a documentary crew see the site where workers are taking animals injured by the spill. Fonda said he was troubled by reports that dying dolphins and other animals were being secretly disposed of by BP.
“There have been wild rumors going around, and we want to settle them,” Fonda told a BP spokesman at the Grand Isle community center.
Elsewhere there were efforts to grasp for normalcy. In Gulfport, Miss., organizers of the 62nd annual Mississippi Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo said the show would go on this weekend even though all nearby federal waters — essentially all the deep areas — have been closed to fishing.
“We also do a freshwater category,” organizer Richard Valdez said. “A fisherman’s going to fish.”