Out-of-work fishermen demand changes to oil cleanup work program

Jun 7th, 2010 | By | Category: Top Story
Luke Marengo

Luke Marengo, a local shrimper and electrician, spoke to the council June 1, expressing concern over the use of the dispersant Corexit to combat the Gulf oil spill.

At the St. Bernard Parish Council’s meeting this week, Parish President Craig Taffaro reported that the parish has thus far trained more than 500 residents for oil cleanup and that about 200 workers each day are dispatched in oil cleanup efforts. In addition, the parish has spent close to $4.5 million to implement the cleanup, Taffaro said.

And six weeks into the parish’s efforts to keep oil leaking from the damaged Deepwater Horizon well at bay, those numbers do indeed stand out.

But for the scores of out-of-work commercial fishermen and their spouses who crowded into the council chambers Tuesday, Taffaro’s words brought little respite. The fishermen lined up to offer a united voice of disgust with the parish-run Vessel of Opportunity program, which they say is putting too few fishermen to work.

Citing apparent favoritism and a perceived disregard for the parish’s hardest hit fishermen, those present called on Taffaro to make the system more transparent and fair.

There were claims that, despite the parish’s decision to hire only local commercial fishermen for the project, the parish continues to hire people who are not currently commercial fishermen.

“I know guys that ain’t been commercial fishing for five or six years, since after Katrina, but they’re down there working and I’m not,” said George Jackson of St. Bernard. I can point them out to you. The real commercial fishermen ain’t working and getting any money.”

Several speakers urged Taffaro to take whatever action necessary, including checking tax records and trip tickets, to ensure as much work as possible is given to commercial fishermen.

Another complaint brought to Taffaro was the fact that some oil spill personnel are working seven days a week while fishermen hired under the Vessels of Opportunity program work in four-day rotations. Many fishermen at the meeting reported only working one shift in the past six weeks, or none at all.

“Is it that you have to know somebody or do you just have to be in the right place at the right time?” Stacy Campo asked.

Campo then mentioned by name one of the steady, seven-days-a-week workers.

“Who hired these guys? I’ve asked Fred Everhardt, Wayne Landry and several other people, and I’ve been told to ask you. Well, I’m asking you.”

At that, Taffaro cast a lengthy glare toward Everhardt. Later in the discussion Taffaro revealed that Everhardt has recommended at least one person to a full time position at the staging area. At that news, the chamber erupted in yelling between Taffaro and Everhardt and between the crowd and Everhardt.

Campo asked that all oil spill workers be put on a rotation and that Taffaro form an independent committee to oversee the plan. Campo said she believed much of the problem stems from the fishermen simply being left out of the process.

“This is a problem – no one can get answers,” she said. “This is going to kill a community that’s been together for hundreds of years, only because we can’t get an answer.”

Taffaro waited until the end of the discussion to answer the crowd. Taffaro admitted the system was not perfect and he committed to adjust the program to allow a better rotation of workers.

“I own it,” he said of the problem. “I will fix it, and I will fix it immediately.”

Taffaro later reported that, by the end of the week, the Coast Guard and BP would be taking over from the parish the implementation of cleanup operations.

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