Taking Matters into Their Own Hands


Some stories from the Gulf leave everybody a tad uncomfortable, if only because they seem to suggest things that are basically unthinkable. Like local governments taking the law into their own hands, maybe arresting federal officials and taking over private property.

We first saw frustration bubble into action when local officials weeks ago actually commandeered about two dozen BP-leased boats to direct them into local shoreline protection. Now we’re seeing it more and more, and Tropical Depression Bonnie illustrates how bad things actually have become.

On the BP side, which unfortunately includes the federal government, we have a plan to withdraw equipment from the Gulf, but locals see that as a move to take away the equipment for good. So one parish president, Kevin Davis of St. Tammany, actually ordered the local police force to arrest anyone moving oil-protection barges out of his parish waters.

The now-famous Parish President Billy Nungesser joked about blowing out the tires of trucks removing boom. The FBI reportedly asked him to tone it down.

“You’ve got a real issue of trusting anybody’s word,” said one local official.

This is what happens to the social contract between local communities and the federal government once residents are fed a steady stream of misinformation they know to be a joke. This lack of confidence began when the federal officials took BP’s side on low-ball spill estimates and then remained in lock-step on issue after issue.

This time, the feds backed down. If they push it, they will find that folks like Mr. Nungesser are only partially joking.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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