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Aug 23, 2010 5:53 PM by Alison Haynes

Gulf residents struggle in aftermath of oil spill

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The oil has stopped flowing into the Gulf of
Mexico, and that should be a relief. But with fewer cleanup jobs to
be had, many of the people hit hardest by the huge spill are
struggling as badly as ever.
Boat captains ifd deckhands who managed to put food on the table
over the summer because they got hired by BP to skim the oil are
being dropped from the payroll while huge swaths of the Gulf remain
off-limits to those who haul in shrimp, oysters and other seafood.
Now, just when with the environmental and engineering crisis is
easing, large charities providing food to coastal communities have
run out of money, homeless shelters are filling up with men thrown
out of work by the spill, and demand for drug and alcohol
counseling is up.
In yet another source of anxiety for fishermen and others, the
federal government took over the handling of oil-spill damage
claims from BP on Monday, and many people along the Gulf are
waiting to see how Obama administration appointee Kenneth Feinberg
administers the $20 billion victims compensation fund set up by the
company.
Already, there are indications he intends to be stricter than BP
in some case
mwhen it comes to handing out checks to individuals
and businesses.
The oil company has spent more than $6.1 billion so far in the
spill's aftermath, a figure that includes everything from cleaning
beaches and drilling relief wells to paying individual claims and
giving grants to local governments. BP has paid $399 million to
individuals and businesses so far.
Doug Alsem said he went to work on a friend's boat as part of
BP's cleanup program after the oil spill dried up business at his
marine construction company in Belle Chasse, La. But the crew he
worked with was called off a job recently.
"We were out there working and the lady called up ... and said
not to come back," Alsem said in Lafitte, La. "Some of these guys
are just scratching their heads. They don't know what they're going
to do."
Even with most of the oil gone from the surface, more than
52,000 square miles of federal waters in the Gulf remain clon
d to
fishing. And even in places where fishing has resumed, there are
fears that people won't want to eat Gulf seafood.
David Chauvin, owner of a Louisiana shrimp processing business
that has been shuttered since the spill, has been working with the
BP cleanup program. But when that work ends, he is not sure how
long it will take for his business to bounce back.
"Even if today, you called me up and said, `Hey, look, we're
opening up all the fishing grounds that were closed prior to the
spill,' I don't know where we would sell our shrimp," Chauvin
said. "There's such a fear on the market right now."
The oil spill, and its accompanying loss in jobs, have meant a
growing need for services like drug and alcohol counseling,
according to Scott Sumrall, director of disaster preparedness and
response at the Mississippi Department of Mental Health.
"We've seen an increase in substance abuse issues. We've seen
an incrr se in domestic violence," he said. "In a crisis like
this, you don't see a big spike right at the beginning. It takes
awhile."
At the Waterfront Rescue Mission's homeless shelter in
Pensacola, Fla., the spike started about two months ago and shows
no sign of letting up. The shelter normally sees fewer occupants
during the summer, but this year all 37 beds are full, along with
21 mats normally reserved for severe weather.
Many at the shelter are new in town, former fishermen and
deckhands from the region who were drawn to Pensacola by the
prospect of long-term jobs on cleanup crews, said program director
Jason Grizzard.
"There were people who were predicting this wasn't going to be
cleaned up for several years, and these guys were thinking, 'Man,
I'm going to be able to work for a while,"' he said. "Now that
the oil spill is essentially over, they're kind of stuck."
The BP program that hired fishing vessels lar cleanup work often
paid well. Boat owners reported earning between $1,400 to $2,000 a
day and sometimes more, depending on the size of the boat. Now that
income is drying up.
At Sportsman Marina on Perdido Bay in Orange Beach, Ala., only
40 or so boats are still going out daily to scout for oil, down
from a high of as many as 120 a day earlier in the summer,
according to general manager Brian Wells.
Some participants were angry to learn that the money that they
made in the cleanup program will be deducted from any checks they
receive from the government-administered fund.
"We chose, from the beginning, to get out there and to try to
make a difference, to save our fishing grounds," Chauvin said.
---
Associated Press reporters Holbrook Mohr in Jackson, Miss., Jay
Reeves in Birmingham, Ala., and Jeffrey S. Collins in Grand Isle,
La., contributed to this story.

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