Gulf Coast – Day Two: Grand Isle.
For the next few days, I’ll be blogging live from the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, to bring a first-hand perspective from a Louisiana journalist. If you have specific questions, feel free to e-mail them to: email@example.com. I’ll try to update this blog at least twice a day.
One of the most impacted areas so far has been Grand Isle, La., a tiny island community about two and a half hours southwest of New Orleans. Accessible only by a two-lane road, Grand Isle is remote, isolated and home to about 1,500 permanent residents and in the peak summer months, as many as 20,000 tourists and vacationers. The island stretches barely half a mile wide and runs for more than 10 miles. At its highest point, Grand Isle is seven feet above sea level.
The main thoroughfare through town is lined along both sides with elevated beach houses, apartments and even a few mobile homes. There are several local restaurants, a half-dozen motels, and two bustling marinas. In addition to the town’s permanent residents, a number of people typically rent homes for the summer. Typically.
This year, Grand Isle is lined with an infestation of “For Rent” signs. A local realtor said the summer rental season this year saw the most last minute cancelations they could recall. Meanwhile, the Army National Guard has taken up residence in several of the vacant structures, as have Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputies and a number of workers. Grand Isle town council member Leoda Bladsacker said the town is thankful for the money being spent, but “it’s not the same,” she assured me.
Leoda was just one of the many people still in shock some 49 days into the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Mrs. Bladsacker said BP has been pumping money into the area to make up for lost revenues from tourism, fishing and shrimping. “They’re payin’ right now, but for how long?” she asked. For now, that’s a question BP representatives are hesitant to answer.
There’s a new “company man” on the ground, too. A semi-retired BP man, Bob Dudley, has become the public face of the company after several high-profile gaffes by BP CEO Tony Hayward. Though Dudley was quick to point out Hayward is “still the CEO of BP,” it was Dudley who finally secured the blessings of the world’s fourth largest company to begin paying for Gov. Bobby Jindal’s sand berms — an exhaustive network of six-foot sand levees just beyond the barrier islands.
Despite BP’s release of the first $60 million in funding to state officials for the sand berms, I didn’t forget Mrs. Bladsacker’s question. Following an internationally-covered press conference, I approached Dudley with that very question. He declined to answer it and said he had “been instructed to not answer any media questions.” The reason he gave: he was traveling with the Governor and was told not to “delay his flight.” Perhaps Dudley didn’t realize Gov. Jindal was traveling on a Louisiana National Guard pave hawk and that the man in charge of that helicopter, Maj. Gen. Bennett Landreneau, answers to Gov. Jindal.
In other words, the flight wasn’t going anywhere until the Governor was good and ready.
Nevertheless, Jindal praised Dudley for his swift action in securing the $360 million needed to build the berms, but Jindal’s praise came with a bite: it wasn’t until a BP representative saw oil in the bay, inside the barrier islands, that the money started flowing. Forty-nine days into the disaster and more than 30 days since oil first invaded the barrier islands, today was the first time a representative of the company had seen the oil, Jindal said.
More tomorrow on today’s trip to Grand Isle…including an interview with environmental advocate Erin Brockovich, notes from Gov. Jindal.