Mr. Lam hasn’t taken his boat out in weeks. BP told him shortly after the spill that they would call him to use his boat for laying boom. According to Mr. Lam this job would earn him $1,500 a day, however BP has not called. He has only received the $5,000 check that BP sent to coastal workers who have filed out-of-work claims. The check will supposedly be sent monthly, yet it is much less than the $20,000 Mr. Lam normally pulls in each month through shrimping. With two children in college and a new house in Houston which he bought after fleeing from Katrina, Mr. Lam has been forced to work for $120 a day loading boats preparing for spill cleanup to make ends meet. He is currently living on his boat.
As Mr. Lam said, “My life has been hard.” He grew up in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge years. He fled with his mother and eight sisters to Vietnam and then Thailand, before coming to the United States. He started in California, and then moved, penniless, to Louisiana, where he knew some people in the shrimping business. After several years working for others, he bought his first shrimper in cash. When asked what he’ll do if shrimping is not reopened in the foreseeable future, he replied, “I don’t know.”
Jindal had just returned from a trip into the wetlands near Venice, where he saw oil-covered pelican nesting grounds. Even if able to save the adult pelicans, Jindal said, the nests themselves are doomed. During the conference, Jindal laid out a defense of the “sand berm” plan in which sand would be dredged onto coastal barrier islands to keep the spill offshore. Jindal requested the approval for the plan two weeks ago, and has been waiting to hear from the Army Corps of Engineers since. Jindal stated that 65 miles of the state’s coast was now oiled, “more than the coasts of Delaware and Maryland combined.” Jindal also said that nearly 150,000 feet of boom on hand has yet to be deployed because the contractors are waiting on BP’s approval.
Nungesser said that if the sand berm plan that was proposed by Louisiana officials two weeks ago had been carried out, “80-90% of the oil that has reached the wetlands could have been stopped.” Now, he said, we are experiencing “our worst nightmare.” He railed against BP, the Coast Guard, and the Army Corps of Engineers for having “no sense of urgency” and no definitive plan, in addition to delaying any plans devised by Louisiana officials.
An unnamed Plaquemines official said off the record that currently fishermen are “walking around in a daze,” not knowing what the future holds. He continued by saying that Plaquemines culture will be irrevocably changed by the spill. “My entire life I’ve pulled oysters straight from the water and eaten them fresh out of the shell, right in the boat,” he said. “Now, I won’t eat anything from these wetlands for fifty years. My children and grandchildren won’t have the experiences I’ve had. Everything has changed.”
Woodlief Thomas lives in Little Rock, Arkansas. He taught in the public schools over fifteen years, predominantly high school English in New Orleans, LA. He currently drives a long-haul tractor-trailer. His writing has appeared in Oxford American, Armchair/Shotgun, The Progressive, Nowhere, Newfound, and In These Times. Visit his website here.