BP Oil Spill: Residents of Marrero, La., Share Their Frustration and Fears

As oil invades gulf waters, ABC's Diane Sawyer talks with one fishing community.

May 24, 2010, 10:05 AM

May 24, 2010— -- While anger continues to grow over BP's failure to contain the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and frustration with the federal response grows, a sense of desperation pervades the communities that dot the Louisiana coastline and depend on healthy fishing waters for their survival.

Marrero, La., located between the Mississippi River and the Jean Lafitte preserve in lower Jefferson Parish near New Orleans, is one of those areas. In Marrero, most families are connected to the fishing industry and may bear the ecological costs of this spill for decades to come.

Watch 'World News' on ABC tonight for more of Diane Sawyer's Town Hall conversation

Outside the Hosanna Church on Barataria Boulevard, Pastor George McLean has posted a simple message: "Pray for a solution to the oil leak problem."

Inside that church, late Sunday night, ABC's Diane Sawyer gathered with about 40 members of the community to talk with them about their frustrations and fears as oil from the spill continues to invade the fishing waters and marshes of the Gulf Coast.

The community was already struggling before this spill -- fighting to recover from the hurricanes that have struck the region, and struggling to compete against the cheap, imported seafood that has driven down market prices and shrunk profits. In some ways, community members said, the spill could not have come at a worse time.

"For everybody out there that doesn't understand, give them a sense of what it's like to be in the shrimp business," said Sawyer to the group that had gathered.

"We were just starting to make money. We'd only been trawling for two weeks," said one man, who had just been hired by BP to help in cleanup efforts. "Now we're all putting our boats out to work -- we've got to go fight with the oil, go help try and stop it."

Bonnie Gross, whose husband is a commercial fisherman, is a lifelong resident of Lafitte. Gross sold her husband's catch at the market and told Sawyer the fishermen see firsthand the failures of the response and don't have the information they need to do their jobs safely. They also fear that the spill has ruined the vital summer fishing season.

"He doesn't want to put out a tainted product," said Gross, noting that her husband depends on the FM radio and information shared among fisherman to avoid oil-tainted waters.

"There's nothing out, there's not boats, no booms, nothing stopping it from coming in," she said. "So now, the areas that they could fish, they can't."

The problem is so vast, it feels to some almost impossible to tackle.

"How can you start a cleanup effort when you haven't stopped the problem?" said one man.

Oil Spill Town Hall: Frustration Builds Over BP and Federal Government

"We're being invaded not by armies or tanks or ships and troops," but by "this oil that's going to do the same devastation, create the same problems," said Republican State Rep. Patrick Connick, who wants the federal government to cut through the bureaucracy to allow the state to build barriers to hold back the oil.

"It's going to wipe out our communities, wipe out the coast, wipe out the industry, wipe out our livelihoods. So we're going to fight it the best we can, we're not going to give up," Connick said.

There's frustration over the federal government, and frustration with BP, which has portrayed itself as an engaged and active part of the community. "They're leading everyone to believe that," said Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts.

But not all the residents agree with BP's public image, and some believe BP is holding the community back from attempting a more aggressive response to the oil.

"What's very frustrating is that yesterday, we saw oil rushing in from the Gulf of Mexico into the estuaries," said Roberts. "And there were boats just tied up that had all of the appropriate equipment to skim but were not being utilized.

"So, we basically commandeered those vessels and brought them out to areas to begin skimming up the oil," Roberts explained. "Because, had they been working and mobilized, then some of the areas that these folks make their living from would have been able to be salvaged."

"Surely BP wants to keep the oil from coming ashore," Sawyer asked the group.

"You would think that, but it's caught up in a bureaucratic process, worrying about litigation, worrying about 'is someone properly trained?'" said Roberts. "And it's very frustrating, because every hour we lose, the oil is coming further and further in."

"Where was their contingency plan?" asked another man. "If you're going to drill that deep, you have to have a plan."

"Diane, we've been trying to convince the federal government that BP has its hands full," said John Young, another Jefferson Parish councilman. "The federal government needs to come in and say the fed, state and local governments are going to take care of protecting the coast, the wetlands and the marshes. BP's ultimately going to pay for it, but the federal government needs to come in."

For residents watching the oil come farther into Louisiana's waters, it can be hard to stay hopeful.

"I think we're watching this ... slowly die, and our coast slowly disappearing," said one woman.

"If we get a hurricane this year, it's going to push this stuff even farther in," said another woman. "It will never get fixed. It will affect our life, and our children and grandchildren."

At this point, many at the town hall meeting said they believed that only God could provide the answers so desperately needed.

"What was the prayer here today?" Sawyer asked.

"We were praying for a solution," said one congregant. "God didn't make it, man made it. But we're asking him to help us in his mercy to find some solution."

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