Tempers flare at St. Bernard town hall meeting on oil spill


by Bigad Shaban / Eyewitness News


Posted on May 24, 2010 at 10:36 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 25 at 4:29 PM

CHALMETTE, La. -- A community desperately looking for answers in the midst of the oil mess found some Monday evening, but not before voicing their disappointment towards BP's response.

Anxiety was mounting, questions looming, and frustration boiling.

"Can you replace my heritage?" shouted an emotional Erwin Menesses to a BP claims representative, during a town hall meeting in Chalmette.

The lifelong commercial fisherman was one of about 200 people who spent the evening inside the Civic Center, a sea of out-of-work fisherman and weary residents looking for answers from the U.S. Coast Guard, NOAA and BP.

"I'm not seeing BP coming to save my heritage yet. That's important to me, just as important as any money," said Menesses. "BP ain't going to be able to replace to tell my kid how to fish, you can't no money in the world can replace that."

About 25 miles to the southeast just outside of Hopedale on the coast of St. Bernard, crabbers sort through their latest catch.

"It's the best time of year for crabbing, and they're going to shut us down now any day now," said crabber Chris Battle.

The fear here remains. Will the latest crates of crabs bill among the last? Efforts to fight the oil offshore, they argue, are now too little, too late.

"It's past the time," said Tony Goutierrez. "When they could have done something, they never did."

And now the threat of even more fishing closures could put them out of business, but the possibility of too few closures, they fear, might make people sick and that backlash could also put them out of business.

It's a devilish balance, and regardless of which side you tip the scales, suffering is inevitable.

Meanwhile, efforts to keep the oil at bay continue, despite what parish leaders describe as a lack of protective boom and skimmers.

"There are not enough assets to go around," said St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro. "That is the most freighting piece of this incident.

Back at the town hall, a BP spokesperson said otherwise.

"The actual amount of boom deployed in Louisiana and the people in vessels is sufficient to keep the oil off shore," said Glenn DaGian, BP Spokesperson.

The mess continues to creep ever closer.

"Marsh gets all filled with oil, what am i going to do" wondered Paul Pecunia, a commercial fisherman in Chalmette. "I've been crabbing all my life."

And the tension at the meeting was clear.

"It's not just money," said Menesses. "It's more than money."