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Jul 28, 2010 2:15 PM by Letitia Walker

Gulf Spill - 100 Days

GRAND ISLE, La. (AP) - A hundred days ago, shop owner Cherie
Pete was getting ready for a busy summer serving ice cream and
po-boys to hungry fishermen. Local official Billy Nungesser was
planning his wedding. Environmental activist Enid Sisskin was
preparing a speech about the dangers of offshore drilling.
Then the oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded off the coast of
Louisiana, and in an instant, life along the Gulf Coast changed for
good.
Pete spends her days worrying that the fishing industry may
never recover. Nungesser has put his wedding on hold while he sits
in meetings and argues with federal officials. And Sisskin
continues to talk about the dangers of drilling - only now, people
are listening.
The 100 days since the April 20 explosion have been a
gut-wrenching time for folks who work, play and live along the Gulf
Coast. The Gulf is a sanctuary for some, an employer for others,
and now, a tragedy.
These are their stories.
---
The Restaurant Owners
A hundred days ago, business was booming at Barrios Seafood
Restaurant in Golden Meadow, La., during Lent, when many of the
Roman Catholics in south Louisiana forgo meat on Fridays or
altogether. Customers were lined up for meals of crab, shrimp, fish
and other seafood delivered hours after being pulled from the Gulf.
Alicia and Thomas Barrios believed their years of struggling to
get the business going were finally paying off.
"We were saying, 'If business is this good now, just think what
it will be like in the summer,"' Alicia Barrios said. "It was
more money than we had ever made before in our lives."
They began sprucing up the restaurant, even adding a patio with
visions of customers lingering there this summer. Then the
Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and the oil began filling the Gulf.
"I'd say about 50 percent of our business was tourist, and they
stopped coming immediately," Alicia said. "Seafood got hard to
get, the price went up and people are worried about eating it."
These days, Thomas Barrios is working in the Vessels of
Opportunity program, helping BP clean up the spill. Alicia Barrios
has had to lay off two of her employees and the adjacent market is
only open two days a week.
She's also thinking about how to change the menu if the price of
seafood keeps going up and it remains scarce.
"I guess we could start serving pasta and hamburgers," she
said. "But I'm afraid to spend the money on a new sign and menus.
To be honest, if it wasn't for the BP check, we'd already be
closed."
---
The Oil Worker
A hundred days ago, Joey Rojas was in a training session for his
job as an oil pipeline production operator when he heard about the
rig explosion. He figured it would be cleaned up in a few days, but
soon he was worrying about the future of his entire industry.
Two weeks after high school graduation, Rojas, 24, bucked a long
family tradition of commercial fishing to take a job in south
Louisiana's oil country. He hasn't looked back - until now.
He worries about a push by federal officials to impose a
deepwater drilling moratorium and new regulations.
"I'm starting to wonder what my future will hold. Will I have
to look at another job? Will I be paying $5 or $6 at the pump?" he
asked. "If a plane crashes, you don't stop flying."
Every so often, he thinks about another line of work. But
there's little chance he'll find one that would pay as much while
allowing him to live near his family in the fishing village of Port
Sulphur.
"I think about looking for another job. And then I think about
where I can make the money that I make now, unless I'm a lawyer or
a doctor," he said. "You just can't go anywhere and make $80,000
a year."
He's confident the oil industry will survive, but he's afraid
there won't be as many jobs. His 2-year-old son, Joey Jr., might
not be able to follow in his footsteps.
"The jobs will be here, and the oil industry will outlast me,"
he said. "But my son is going to have to go to college and be
something else."
---
The Seafood Broker
A hundred days ago, Darlene Kimball was getting ready for a busy
summer at her family's docks in Pass Christian, Miss., waiting for
the buyers who would snap up hundreds of pounds of shrimp from the
backs of boats, loading them into ice chests and hauling them back
to giant freezers.
Now the place is empty, and the only boats she sees are the ones
used by BP contractors cleaning up the spill.
Kimball's family has been in the Mississippi seafood industry
since 1930, and she's never wanted to do anything else. But
recently the 43-year-old had to do the unthinkable - draft a resume
so she could look for another line of work.
"Everything's different," she said. "My life has gone from a
fast-paced to nothing."
She misses the excitement of fishermen calling from the water
announcing their latest haul, the awkward tourists trying to
negotiate with boat captains for a piece of the catch. Most of all,
maybe, she misses the sound of the seagulls circling the boats long
before they come into town.
"There's nothing around me," she said. "My culture is gone,
my livelihood is gone. What my grandfather and father have worked
so hard to accomplish is in jeopardy."
--
The Activist
A hundred days ago, Florida environmental activist Enid Sisskin
was scanning through oil spill data from the Minerals Management
Service, preparing a speech on the dangers of offshore drilling.
Then the rig exploded, and she ended up rewriting the entire
thing. She even told a halfhearted joke, about how future
discussions of offshore drilling would have to begin with "a noun,
a verb and the words Deepwater Horizon."
But Sisskin, who teaches in the public health program at
University of West Florida, hasn't laughed much these past 100
days. She lives in the coastal community of Gulf Breeze and has
long been a vocal opponent of Gulf drilling rigs.
"There's a constant knot in the pit of my stomach," she said.
"I'm afraid for the future. Are we going to come back? Are our
waters going to be clean enough? Are we going to have the sea
birds? Can we comfortably say to tourists, come on down and get in
the water and eat the fish?"
She's been busy this summer, teaching classes and giving talks
to groups on the effects of oil and dispersants on public health.
There is one thing she doesn't say in her speeches: I told you
so.
"This is something I never ever wanted to be able to say," she
said. "It's vindication, but what a horrible way to be
vindicated."
---
The Tourism Mogul
A hundred days ago, Frank Besson was raking in money at the
tourism empire he's built on Grand Isle, a spit of land along the
coast where vacationers have flocked for decades. What started with
his father's souvenir shop expanded to a daiquiri bar across the
street and a restaurant next door.
On a good day, he used to make $1,600. The shop's take last
Saturday, when the island hosted a benefit concert? A measly
$28.18, he says, pointing to the day's receipt.
His little monopoly is in shambles these days. The restaurant,
known for a homemade pecan glaze that's perfect for chicken
fingers, is closed indefinitely. The daiquiri bar opens late each
night to a trickle of customers. And most days you can find Besson
inside his locked souvenir shop, watching a tiny TV.
The only thing that's keeping the business afloat, he said
ruefully, is that BP leased two of his rental homes and signed a
catering contract with his shuttered restaurant.
Besson, 61, is still optimistic that business will turn around
and he'll be able to reopen his restaurant. But for now, he's found
himself in an unusual position. He's actually hoping for a storm.
"We want some rough weather so we can disperse and dissolve
some of that stuff," he said. "I hate to say it, and I never
thought I would say that, but that's what we want."
---
The Local Official
A hundred days ago, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser
was busy with blueprints of fire stations, schools and community
centers damaged during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and still in need
of rebuilding. He was planning his wedding to his longtime fiance,
which they postponed after the storm.
"I had a life," Nungesser says.
Now, his life looks like this: Endless meetings with the Coast
Guard. Endless arguments with federal officials and BP workers. And
countless media appearances - he's been on Anderson Cooper so often
alongside fellow Cajun James Carville that the trio are like the
holy trinity of nighttime cable TV.
The new fire stations, schools and community centers have been
put on hold. He's seen his mother twice in the past few months -
and she lives right in the coastal Louisiana parish. And then
there's the matter of the wedding. That's not happening anytime
soon, not until life calms down and the fight is over.
For now, he's got a war to wage. That's how he characterizes his
region's fight against BP, the federal government, the oil.
"A hundred days later, I can't look you in the eye and tell you
who's in charge," he said. "I would not want to go to war with
this team. Looking back, it's very sad that a lot of marshes and
wildlife could have been saved if the federal government and BP had
just listened to local people."
---
The Priest
A hundred days ago, the Rev. Mike Tran was busy ministering to
his flock at the lone Catholic church on Grand Isle.
When he was first assigned, he dragged his feet. It was too
small, too isolated and there was too little to do. Boy was he
wrong.
He arrived in July 2005, weeks before Hurricane Katrina
demolished much of the island. Parishioners at Our Lady of the Isle
weathered that storm and the others that followed, but the spill
has presented a new challenge. It threatens their way of life.
Church attendance has been cut in half. Weekly donations are
down $1,000. Yet more people than ever are walking up the stilted
church's stairs to seek food and money.
The morning after the rig explosion, Tran held a mass to honor
the 11 victims. Most church members hadn't even heard the news.
The last three months have been a whirlwind of prayer, charity
and counseling.
"People are constantly in fear," he said. "They like to work,
not to rely on a business for help. They were able to go out on the
Gulf whenever they wanted to feed their families. They were living
a worry-free life, knowing that the Gulf would provide."
---
The Dolphin Cruise
A hundred days ago, the website for Blue Dolphin Cruises in
Orange Beach, Ala., beckoned visitors to come join the fun.
Cruise operators promised amazing sights: Ono Island's exclusive
celebrity homes, stunning sunsets and, of course, dolphins.
On board the 47-passenger pontoon boat, tourists could buy soft
drinks, water, beer, wine, snacks, as well as film, T-shirts,
stuffed dolphins, visors, necklaces, and other souvenirs. Dolphin
sightings were guaranteed, but guests were warned not to feed or
swim with the sleek animals.
The website still says "Come join the fun."
The summer of 2010 has been anything but.
"Thank you for calling Blue Dolphin Cruises," the company's
voicemail message now says. "We are currently closed due to the
oil spill."

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